John 16:16-33 – Jesus and His Little Whiles

Today we finish up John 16.
·  In our text, Jesus concludes his conversation with the disciples that began at the Last Supper, continued through the Farewell discourse, and finishes with our text today.
·  We will primarily deal with (1) the “little while” that Jesus designates as His return, and (2) what the results of His return be.
o   In the course of these discussions, we will pick out some important implications and principals for the believer.
·  We will then end with some final observations about the rest of our text.


John 16:16–22 (ESV) — 16A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?

The obvious question to be answered in our text is what does “a little while” refer to?
·  To answer this question and understand what Jesus is saying we need to notice two distinctions.
·  Jesus clearly makes reference to two different “little whiles”.
·  (1) The “little while” before they no longer see Him due to His departure.
·  (2) The “little while” before they see Him again after His return from His departure.
·  We will deal with each of these separately as we seek to answer our stated question.

(1) “Little While” and Departure:
In surveying commentaries on John, it would seem that there are two choices open to us.
·  Jesus was referring to His leaving either via
o   (a) His death on the cross
o   (b) His ascension.
·  And given the context of our verses
o   Jesus’ farewell discourse
o   The night of His arrest
o   And the night before His crucifixion
·  It is not surprising all 7 commentators I read opted for option (a).
·  D.A. Carson; Kostenberger; Beasley-Murray; Wiersbe; R.C. Sproul ; James Boice; MacArthur
·  Boice sums up this view saying simply, “This [option (a)] is the first and most obvious interpretation simply because Christ is here speaking to his disciples, trying to comfort them on the eve of his arrest and separation from them” – James Boice.

The second “little while”, however, doesn’t have the same kind of consensus.

(2) “Little While” and Return:
The four most common options cited for the second “little while”, i.e., when Jesus will return from His departure through the cross, are:
·  (a) His resurrection.
·  (b) His second coming.
·  (c) Pentecost – the giving of the Holy Spirit
·  (d) His exaltation.

The most popular option is (a).
·  D.A. Carson; Kostenberger; Beasley-Murray; R.C. Sproul
·  D.A. Carson sums up option (a) succinctly, “Jesus will die. But then ‘after a little while’ his disciples will again see him: Jesus will rise from the dead” – D.A. Carson.

Wiersbe sides with (d).
·  This would mean that Jesus is telling the disciples they will see Him again in heaven.

James Boice takes the all of the above (a), (b), (c) and (d) approach.

And finally, John MacArthur opts adamantly for choice (c).
·  He argues that the return Jesus is referring to is the giving of the Holy Spirit…His Spirit.
·  “It seems most accurate to view the Lord’s promise that He would see the disciples again primarily as a reference to the coming of His Spirit on the day of Pentecost” – John MacArthur.
·  I agree.

BTW – it is a comfort to me that both the disciples and the commentators are unclear about what Jesus is talking about.
·  In verse 18 the disciples ask, “What does he mean by a little while?
·  The commentators give it their best guess and come to different conclusions.
·  However, it is important to note that none of the differences affect core doctrine.
·  There is space here, as there are in other areas, for informed, sanctified speculation.
·  But we must always consider the implications “down the line” for some of these areas of disagreement.

(2)(a) – Why the Second “little while” Is Pentecost:
So why is option (c) the way to go?
·  There is one main reason why I think MacArthur is right…context, context, and context.
·  As James Boice puts it, “This is not reading something into the passage, because it is suggested to us by the context. In the first part of this chapter the Lord has been talking about the Holy Spirit” – James Boice.
·  Jesus has been trying to encourage, equip, and comfort the disciples so that they will be ready to continue His mission after His “final” departure.
·  After all, the giving of the Holy Spirit was not to occur after the resurrection but at Pentecost.
o   What comfort would be provided by resurrecting and then leaving them again?
o   And how could the 2nd coming provide comfort to them during their ministry?
o   And why would they need comforting in heaven with an exalted Jesus?
·  And as we saw last week, Jesus was sending the Holy Spirit as His replacement.
·  So given these and other reasons not cited, Pentecost makes the most sense.

What are the implications of this view?
·  (1) The deep and unified connection between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
·  (2) And it also speaks powerfully of the nature of the Trinity.

(2)(a)(1) – Awesome Implications of this View:
John 14:16–17 (ESV) — 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
·  MacArthur points out that the Greek word for “another” used in verse 16 is “allos”.
·  He points out that there was another word available for Jesus to use that meant “another” – “heteros”.
·  The significance is found in the meaning of each.
·  Allos” means “another of the same kind” and “heteros” means another of a different kind – MacArthur.
·  The point is that the “Helper” is a “kind” of Jesus – Jesus and the Spirit are of the same stuff.
o   Not of different stuff.

This, along with the following verses, demonstrates the powerfully (1) intimate connection between Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as (2) the reality of the Trinity.
·  John 14:23 (ESV) — 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
o   Was this done after the resurrection, the exaltation, or is it more likely referring to Pentecost?
·  Romans 8:9–10 (ESV) — 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
·  Philippians 1:19 (ESV) — 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,

Taking this view of Jesus’ second “in a little while” also impacts how we will see the next verses.
·  Jesus answers their question not with a simple, “my return to you will be at Pentecost shortly after I ascend to the Father”.
·  He instead answers their question with what the result will be when He returns at Pentecost.
·  The result, after all, is what will provide them the comfort they need!
·  And I think not answering directly but with the result is partly why the disciples were confused.
·  Along with the fact that “the disciples still had no category in which to place the notion of a dying and rising Messiah who would, upon his exaltation, send “another helping presence” in form of the Spirit” – Kostenberger.


There are two results that Jesus attributes to His return to the disciples.
·  I think both of these give further credence to option (c) as discussed above.
·  (1) Their hearts of sorrow will be transformed to hearts of joy.
·  (2) They will be able to pray in a way never before done in history – in Jesus’ name.

(1) Sorrow to Joy:
John 16:20–22 (ESV) — 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again [in a little while], and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

In our text, Jesus takes notice of the sorrow of the disciples.
·  weep and lament” (vs. 20)
·  will be sorrowful” (vs. 20)
·  have sorrow now” (vs. 22)
·  In last week’s text, we also saw that Jesus said, “sorrow has filled your heart” (John 16:6).

And then in context of their current and coming sorrow, He says the following:
·  but I will see you again [in a little while], and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (vs. 22)

In other words, Jesus makes clear that His departure followed by His “return” will bring rejoicing and joy to the hearts of the disciples.
·  The coming joy is a clear first result of His return.
o   Further support for option “c”.
o   This joy is most needed for the persecution they disciples will soon face.
·  And not only will His “return” bring joy, but it will bring permanent joy.
o   no one will take your joy” (vs. 22).

What is this joy He is speaking of?
·  Acts 5:41 (ESV) — 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
·  Acts 13:52 (ESV) — 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
·  Acts 16:25 (ESV) — 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
·  1 Peter 1:8 (ESV) — 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

At the very least, it is a joy that comes from our identification with Christ through the Holy Spirit in the new order of the Kingdom of God.
·  It is not a joy that comes from worldly circumstances or conditions, but exists in spite of them.
·  And though we might be able to obscure it, we can’t lose it.

In fact, it is a joy that Jesus has described as His joy.
·  John 15:11 (ESV) — 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
·  This means that it is a joy that is supernaturally sourced.
·  It is not contingent on the world and its pleasures.

And if we look closely we will see a very important Kingdom principle from this sorrow-to-joy result.

(1)(a) Sorrow-to-Joy Implication:
·  “The principle is simply this: God brings joy to our lives, not by substitution, but by transformation” – Wiersbe.
·  Joy is not the absence of sorrow, but the transformation of sorrow to joy by the workings of the Spirit on the believer through our sanctification within the Kingdom of God.
·  This principle is simple and powerful.
·  And with the exaltation of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit it is the believers’ to have.

This principle is made clear with Jesus’ child birth metaphor.
·  A mother does not wake up one morning and find her new baby in the crib.
·  She goes through an often traumatic and painful pregnancy and birth.
·  And, as Jesus put it, after the birth “she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (vs. 21).
·  The thing that caused her anguish and sorrow has now been transformed into a thing of joy.

This is nothing new to God:
·  Deuteronomy 23:5 (ESV) — 5 But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you.
·  Nehemiah 13:2 (ESV) — 2 for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing.

What are some other examples in Scripture that demonstrate this principal?
·  The cross was transformed by God from humiliation and a curse, to glorification and salvation.
·  The slavery of Joseph was transformed by God to be a salvation of the Israelites from famine.
·  The sorrow and aguish David experienced under pursuit by King Saul, “only made him more a man of God and helped produce the psalms that encourage our hearts today” – Wiersbe.

How often do we wonder why God doesn’t simply sanctify us completely, and replace our will and desires with His at the point of our salvation?
·  In our text today, we see that the Kingdom of God was not set up like this.
·  Perhaps God is glorified more through transformation instead of substitution.
·  “The way of substitution for solving problems is the way of immaturity. The way of transformation is the way of faith and maturity” – Wiersbe.
·  “…we must deal with our trials and hurts on the basis of transformation and not substitution, if we expect to mature in the Christian life” – Wiersbe.
·  Would you rather the “Tyranny of Circumstances” simply be substituted with joy, or would you rather be transformed in such a way that no matter the circumstance you would have joy?
o   This is the joy of Jesus and not the fleeting joy of the world.

Now we can move on to the second result.

(2) Prayer in Jesus’ Name:
John 16:23–28 (ESV) — 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. 25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

Look closely at what Jesus says.
·  In that day you will ask nothing of me” (vs. 23)
o   This implies when this happens He will not be physically with them.
o   Further support to option “c”.
·  Then He says, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name” (vs. 23)
o   In other words, at His “return” prayer will not be directly to Him, but in His name.
o   Further support to option “c”.
·  He then underscores their current style of prayer, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name.” (vs. 24)
·  And tells them that at His “return”, their prayer will be different, “In that day you will ask in my name” (vs. 26).

We see in this text that the second result of Jesus’ return will be the ability to pray in Jesus’ name.
·  Why is this significant?
·  Instead of praying to a physically present Jesus, they will be praying to a “what” kind of Jesus?
·  They will be praying in the name of a crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, glorified, ascended, and exalted Jesus Christ that intercedes on their behalf at the right hand of the Father.
·  The disciples can now pray to the fully inaugurated King of the Kingdom of God who sits on His throne.
o   The new order of creation!
·  And it is for this reason that Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (vs. 24).

Summary of Results (1) and (2):
So thus far we have seen two results of Jesus’ return through the Holy Spirit.
·  (1) Joy comes through transformation.
·  (2) Joy also comes through prayer in Jesus’ name.
·  And both of these results are inseparably linked to Jesus’ exaltation to the Father.
·  As if His exaltation is their beginning.
o   “‘because I am going to the Father’” (vs. 17).
o   …and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (vs. 28).
·  And importantly, all of this is available to us as believers.
·  We too can have the fullness of Christ’s joy through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit no matter the circumstance.


I can’t overlook one more very important lesson that pertains to the disciples’ sorrow.
·  The fact that Jesus constantly addressed it requires us to look at the reasons why.
·  And I think the reason He did so will come as no surprise.

(1) Disciples’ Sorrow and Jesus’ Love:
Jesus’ ability to love, empathize and encourage even in the midst of His coming death is incredible.
·  Given what He is about to face, what does His concern with the disciples’ emotional state tell us about Jesus?
·  He loved and cared for them deeply.
·  And the fact that, in spite of what He would soon face, He could continue to put their needs first is simply incredible.
·  But it is more than that; it is an example for us to follow!

But wait…there is more!
·  If, as we learned last week, the Spirit was sent to replace Jesus, what does this say about the Spirit?
o   The Spirit loves us the same way.
o   Wrap your head around that.


John 16:29–33 (ESV) — 29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16 ends rehashing many of the same issues Jesus has addressed since the Last Supper.
·  The ignorance of the disciples.
·  Their coming defection.
·  And even a final encouragement to the disciples.
·  Kostenberger sums these verses up well – “The farewell discourse proper ends on a triumphant note, with Jesus anticipating his victory in the face of apparent defeat: ‘Take heart, I have triumphed over the world’” – Kostenberger.