Below are my sunday school notes from today’s lesson on Christ’s Overcoming the World. This passage is a sweet one, and the notes cover verses 25-33 of chapter 16 in John’s gospel. I hope you enjoy them!
16:25 “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.
Why is it that Jesus spoke in parables? Some say it was to help those around him better understand what he was trying to explain. We commonly jump to that conclusion because its how we use figures of speech. When we are trying to communicate a complex idea to our children, we often resort to more simple analogies to help them understand what we are saying. The goal is so that no matter the age, they will understand what we are saying because we have adapted it to their way of understanding.
However, this was not necessarily the purpose of how Jesus spoke. If his purpose had been to make things more understandable, then why just now is He promising to speak “plainly” to them about the Father? The implication is that up until this time He has purposefully made it more difficult for them to understand.
D.A. Carson wisely explains that Jesus isn’t simply referring to one particularly hard saying, but to His entire discourse (and perhaps His ministry in general).
If the sayings of Jesus are life and a door unto truth, then the Holy Spirit who guides us into “all truth” is the key to that door. In this way Jesus magnifies the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, and the privilege of living in the New Covenant era.
As I quoted above from Hendricksen and Ridderbos, we need to remember that Jesus is ushering in a new era in human history and a new era in redemptive history as well, that is to say that God is about to inaugurate a new covenant with His chosen people. That covenant will look entirely different than the old one. One of the primary ways it will look different is in the pouring out of His Spirit upon “all flesh” (Joel 2), resulting in our being able to clearly understand His word.
The promise of the Spirit leading us into all truth and helping us understand the truths of Jesus has been covered extensively in previous lessons. But two key verses from earlier in the discourse may be enough to remind us of this truth:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)
The Judgment of Parables
There is also a secondary reason that, as a sort of reminder, we might consider for why Jesus’ sayings were so difficult to understand, and why He spoke in enigmatic statements during His ministry. That reason has to do with the judgment/dividing power of His words.
Remember Jesus was always concluding parables by saying “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” Well there are many theories on this, but I believe that just as His righteousness light unto the world, a light that had a necessarily judging or dividing affect so also His teaching (think Matthew 10:34). He was the light and the darkness necessarily was scattered from Him. And we know from previous study why we who were in the dark run away – because our deeds were evil (see John 3:19-21).
So the teaching of Christ necessarily separated darkness from light. Though He did not come to judge the world (yet) in an ultimate sense, there is a sense in which His words heaped judgment on the consciences of men for their evil deeds were exposed by His teaching.
Therefore, I must agree with theologians Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger that the parables were spoken in judgment (White Horse Inn Podcast). If these men and women had a heart for Christ, for the things of God, a heart that sought to understand His words humbly, then perhaps they would have been able to appropriate them to their lives. But instead they rejected Jesus for His words – they hated Him without a cause. Why? Because His words, though veiled, pierced their hearts and convicted their consciences (Hebrews 4:12). You cannot be around the Light and not have your deeds exposed (Mark 4:22).
Think specifically of what we learned in John 12 as Jesus was teaching about the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 6). This is an extended section, but is well worth examining again:
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:36-50)
Consequently, the Holy Spirit functions in the same way since Christ has ascended – something we covered in the earlier part of the chapter. The Spirit is not only to help Christians, but also to convict the world. It is the Spirit’s light – the light of truth – that convicts the consciences of mankind.
Therefore, when Jesus says that he will now tell them “plainly” about the Father, He is indicating again that they are on the verge of a new era in redemptive history. The judgment that has fallen upon His chosen people for their unbelief will fall upon His shoulders and He will hear it away for them upon the cross at Calvary. For those who will receive the Spirit of Truth soon after, the teachings of Christ here in the final discourse will become more clear and more precious (and powerful for their ministry) than they were at the time of first apprehending them.
16:26-28 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.”
First, He loves them “because” they loved Jesus. Love of Jesus is the prerequisite of obtaining love of the Father. Yet, it was He who chose them and loved them first (He is the antecedent to their love, yet their reaction was obedience and love and that is what the Father is pleased with).
Secondly, how amazing is it that the Father loves us? It is an amazing statement here that Jesus says that it isn’t as though He alone loves them, but the Father also loves them – in fact it was His love that set off the mission of Christ in the first place (Ephesians 1:4-6).
For years one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament has been from Exodus 33. Moses has been describes as having this intimate relationship with God, and to me it has always exuded the love that God had for His people – in particular Moses.
It says, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11).
In a similar way, Jesus, the greater fulfillment of the Mosaic mediator role, has provided a way for us to have a friendship with God. Once we were enemies of God, but now we have been drawn close to Him, and here Jesus urges us to ask for things from Him. He fills us with His Spirit, and gives us His word, and speaks to us through His word “as a man speaks to his friend.”
Will Jesus stop Praying for Us?
The way this verse is structured in the English translation of the Bible makes it confusing and even seems to say that when the Spirit comes we won’t need Jesus to intercede for us. This is contrary the clear teaching in other portions of Scripture (Hendricksen agrees and cites Heb. 7:24, 25; 13:15). Rather the meaning is that they will have reached a maturity level because of the Spirit’s work within them that they can now come before the Father themselves. They (we) can actually approach the Holy One in His holy temple and offer prayers – this is only done, however, because of the atonement of Christ. His righteousness is the only reason we are able to be made right with God, and His blood has been spilled to accomplish just that.
Quite a Trip…
Lastly, verse 28 summarizes His whole trip in travel terms: He came from heaven and came into the world, and now He’s leaving the world and going back to the Father. Later the next day He will say the same thing to Pontius Pilate. Until this time Jesus had intimated that He was leaving, but now He plainly sums up that He is going to be leaving for a heavenly destination.
I love how William Hendricksen sees four movements in redemptive history here, and I think its worth quoting parts of his analysis:
First, “I cam out from the Father.” This refers to Christ’s perfect deity, his pre-existence, and his love-revealing departure from heaven in order to dwell on the sin-cursed earth..
Secondly, “I…am come into the world.” That describes Christ’s incarnation and his ministry among men.
Thirdly and fourthly, “Again I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” Note the present tense of both verbs. The path of suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension is, from one aspect, a departure from the world; from another point of view, it is a journey to the Father. On the basis of this voluntary obedience which Jesus is in the process of rendering, the Father (in the Spirit) exercises loving fellowship with those who are his own.
16:29-32 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.
There is more than a hint of a rebuke in the words of Jesus when He states, “do you now believe?” R.C. Sproul says, “It’s almost as if He’s saying ‘Oh, now you believe? Where have you been the last three years?’”
His saying further illuminates their need for the Spirit and the reliance that all men have for God. We are contingent beings, are we not? We are creatures – we are not self-sufficient. Our error comes when we stop thinking that we are contingent and instead assert ourselves as independent and self-sufficient. When we do this, we make ourselves like God and fall into sin. This was the sin of Satan at the first, and it is the sin of many in our world today.
Calvin puts it this way, “The question put by Christ is therefore ironical; as if he had said, ‘Do you boast as if you were full of faith? But the trial is as hand, which will disclose your emptiness.’”
Side Note: I think that further evidence for Jesus speaking before about His coming again to them in the near future – that is, after the resurrection and not at the second coming – is given here again when Jesus states that “you will be scattered, each to his own home.” He is concerned primarily to reassure their hearts about events that are imminent.
What Christ is saying about the scattering of the disciples was also to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah 13:7 which states:“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
That “sword” is the sword of the wrath of God that has been stored up and is going to come down on the head of Jesus Christ. Jesus is going to take upon Himself all the wrath of God’s judgment that was meant for you and me. Matthew Henry is right to cite Daniel 9:26a:
“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…”
Now the prophecy in Zechariah 13 is amazing to me for a few reasons:
First, notice how we humans are regarded – we (the disciples in this case) are called “the little ones” and “the sheep.” For all the confidence of the disciples they would later see this prophecy and no doubt feel once again humbled by who they are in comparison to who God is.
Second, here is the “Lord of hosts” (God) declaring from of old that He will strike the shepherd. This shepherd is “the man who stands next to me.” This is Jesus Christ – the pre-incarnate Son (at the time of Zachariah, if we may speak so of time in relation to the being and existence of God without making a woefully inadequate statement). I can’t help but think of Isaiah 53:4,10 and the “crushing” of the Son, but also of the length to which He has purposefully gone to save us. For as John would go on to write later:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)
Furthermore, when we pull back to the passage again and examine what Jesus is saying here, it is good to take note of the mercy of Christ. For not only does He say these things about their imminent cowardice as a warning (“the sheep will be scattered”), but reassures them (and speaks truth to Himself aloud) that though they will leave Him alone, yet the Father will be with Him!
There are two great truths here in the final verses of this chapter. The first is this truth that no matter where Christ went, no matter what happened, the Father was with Him. And the same can be said to us today. This is the first truth – that no matter where we go, He is with us.
The second truth is enumerated in verse 33…
16:33 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.”
The second truth (to continue my thought from verse 32) is that not only is Christ with us but there is a good reason for Him being with us – because He has overcome the world. The fact that He is with us wouldn’t be helpful if He was not also powerful! Not only is there a power here mentioned “overcome”, but also a legal fact. Jesus is looking forward past the cross and saying that “I have overcome the world.”
I could be wrong, but I think there are two senses in which Jesus overcame the world. First, He lived a perfect life – there was no spot or blemish in Him and in this way (as we learned earlier) Satan wasn’t able to hold anything over His head:
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)
His perfect life was a life that “overcame” all sin and temptation.
But the second sense is a sense of looking forward to His work on the cross. Jesus is saying that by His death, burial, and resurrection He will triumph over the powers that rule this world. As Paul states:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)
And so the battle has been won decisively at the cross. And the consequences of union with Christ as that we also have been victorious in Him. His victory is our victory, and His righteousness is our righteousness.
All of this is said in the context of Jesus staring down the barrel of “tribulation.” Tribulation will mark the lives we lead in this world, but there is a joy, which we can look forward to because ultimately He has “overcome the world.” Not just “will” overcome, but “has” overcome.
And because of His victory, His power resides in us through the indwelling of the Spirit. John MacArthur rightly remarks, “After the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the disciples would be radically transformed from men of fear to men of courage.”
The same is true for us. We who are Christians had once lived a life dominated, indeed ruled, by fear. Now we live by faith in the Son of God and walk by that faith daily by the power of the Spirit. I can’t help but think of what Jonathan Edwards said about this in the Religious Affections as he’s describing the nature of the Christian and his gracious affections/fruit of the Spirit as it relates to God’s power working within the Christian:
…that the inward principle from whence they flow is something divine, a communication of God, a participation of the divine nature, Christ living in the heart, the Holy Spirit dwelling there in union with the faculties of the soul, as an internal vital principle, exerting His own proper nature in the exercise of those faculties. This is sufficient to show us why true grace should have such activity, power and efficacy. No wonder that that which is divine is powerful and effectual; for it has omnipotence on its side. If God dwells in the heart, and is vitally united to it, He will show that He is a God, by the efficacy of His operation.
Perhaps the best parallel Biblical passage I can think of to explain this comes to us from Romans 8 where we learn that Christ’s victory guarantees that we will never be separate from Him:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
The reality of this triumph needs to be applied daily to our lives. Christ applied it to the minds and hearts of His disciples on the brink of what must have seemed to them to be complete and utter disaster.
Therefore, when we encounter trials that we think are “disasters” remember the purposes of Christ in you, and that He has overcome all of these things and has not deserted you.