Joy and Peace Due to Christ’s Work (John 16:16-33)

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Christians should be characterized by joy and peace. Would those be the two emotions or states of being that you would use to characterize yourself as of late? Joy and peace? How about depression, bitterness, and anger? Maybe that would better summarize the emotions you feel.

Just in case you are sitting here this morning feeling all chipper, let me remind you of a few things. (1) In case the myriad of other catastrophes has drawn your attention, I remind you of the last 6 months of a worldwide pandemic. I’m most certain that the mere mention of Covid-19 makes most of our heart rates rise and probably a bit of our proverbial blood to boil. Should we talk about governor mandates and face masks battles? Let’s not. How about in person school or fall sports? Anyone up for that conversation this morning? No? (2) The streets throughout America are full of “peaceful protestors” and rioters leaving behind them billions of dollars of destruction, loss of life, and destroyed livelihoods (3) prompted by presumed issues of systemic racism and police brutality. (4) Politicians politicizing all these disasters. Within the last two weeks, we have had to endure both the Democrat and Republican National Conventions. I am sure all of us are concerned about the outcome of the presidential election come November. (5) Pro sports have become an avenue of social justice with controversies over kneeling or standing during the national anthem, all the way to many pro sports teams boycotting and games being cancelled. Doesn’t China own the NBA now anyway? (6) And if you weren’t concerned enough, throw in murder bees coming to America, (7) a hurricane that devastated Iowa a couple of weeks ago, and (8) two simultaneous hurricanes hitting the Gulf of Mexico this week.

Yea, depression, bitterness, and anger seem accurate. Twenty-twenty has been a rough year.

Purpose statement. And yet, Jesus clearly establishes that a perpetual state of joy and peace ought to characterize the people of God.

Addressing the Confusion

Let me draw your attention to verse 16, in which Jesus says, “a little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (Jn 16:16). The reader likely concludes Jesus is speaking of two short periods of time. A first little while is going to pass, and Jesus will be gone. Then, a second little while will pass, and Jesus will be back. The fact that Jesus uses the concept of “little” would naturally lead the reader to think of a brief period of time. However, as is often true, additional study reveals varied interpretations.

J. Michael Ramsey offers three potential interpretations for these two “short times.” (1) The two short times are consecutive and of roughly equal length. The first time is prior to Christ’s death and the second time concludes with Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples once again saw Jesus following his resurrection, and the disciples and following believers continue to “see” Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit. (2) The two times are consecutive but not of equal length. The second time consists of the present dispensation, culminating in Jesus’ future return. Augustine held this second view. He writes in his homilies on John’s Gospel, “For the whole of that space over which the present dispensation extends, is but a little while; and hence this same evangelist says in his epistle, ‘It is the last hour.’”[1] The disciples and following believers look forward to Jesus visible return. (3) The two times are not consecutive times but instead two different perspectives. From one perspective, the world, and at times the disciples, don’t see Jesus. From a different perspective, the disciples do see Jesus in that the Advocate dwells with them. Ramsay acknowledges “this is not one of those instances in which the reader clearly understands while the disciples do not. Rather, the riddle remains a riddle, not only to the disciples on the scene but even to the readers of the Gospel.”[2]

James Boice as well offers three interpretations, slightly different than Ramsey. However, Boice proposes that Jesus intends to communicate all three. He concludes his introduction with, “I would like to take each of those meanings, show how it is supported by the context, and trace its importance.”[3] Boice briefly outlines his three interpretations before a lengthier explanation.

by means of such ambiguity he [Jesus] suggests more than one meaning…. This apparently deliberate ambiguity suggests three different levels of interpretation. First, it can refer to Jesus’ death and the days of his entombment, during which time he was not seen, and then the resurrection that follows with its renewed sight of him. Second, it can indicate the periods before and after Pentecost, for now, because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we see him in a spiritual way that was not possible previously. That is suggested by the tie-in of these verses with those preceding. Finally, it may describe the church age, this short time in which we do not see Christ with our physical eyes, but after which, when the Lord will return in glory, we will see him face-to-face and have earth’s sorrows transmuted into eternal joy.[4]

While Boice offers three interpretations with its correlating and encouraging application, I find it hard to accept that Jesus intended all three. Westcott appears to understand the passage similarly to Boice. Westcott as well views all three events (resurrection, Pentecost, and Christ’s return) as part of the intended meaning. Wescott writes the following:

The fulfilment of this promise must not be limited to any one special event, as the Resurrection, or Pentecost, or the Return. The beginning of the new vision was at the Resurrection; the potential fulfilment of it was at Pentecost, when the spiritual Presence of the Lord was completed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Presence slowly realised will be crowned by the Return.[5]

Ramsay concludes that the two short times remain a riddle and Boice concludes that three differing interpretations receive equal merit. However, many other commentators confidently conclude Ramsay’s and Boice’s first options.[6] Borchert succinctly writes, “’little while’ here undoubtedly refers to the events of the forthcoming death and resurrection of Jesus.” Carson writes, “each bit of evidence makes most sense if this verse refers to Jesus’ departure in death and his return after his resurrection.” Keener offers a very clear understanding when he writes, “In 16:16, the first “a little while” (μικρόν) refers to the hours remaining before the crucifixion (13:33); the second “a little while” refers to the brief interval between the crucifixion and the resurrection appearances (14:19; 16:19–20).”

Whatever Jesus is referring to brings joy and peace. So then, we have two options. (1) Jesus death, burial, and resurrection bring us joy and peace, or (2) Jesus’ future return brings ultimate joy and peace. We can acknowledge both are true while accepting that both are not the intent of Jesus’ statement here in John 16. I propose that Jesus points to his death, which will bring sorrow, and his resurrection which will bring joy and peace.

Joy and Peace Rooted in Christ’s Work

Dual dynamics within emotions. Before defining joy and peace, I would like to address a reality that’s going to come into play in the two definitions. Often the terms we use to describe emotions can as well be used to describe an objective reality not rooted in our emotions. For instance, consider love. Most often we would consider love an emotion, yet we also realize that it can be an action not rooted in our emotions. Some nuances of love such as brotherly, familial, or erotic love root themselves in our emotions. Yet, we also choose to love or act in a sacrificial way not based on our emotions. This love roots itself more in a decision than in an emotion.

Trust works along the same lines. We can possess the emotion of trust for someone. We can feel trusting towards someone or not feel trusting towards someone. However, we can also choose to entrust something to that person. If you were to give your keys to a valet, you probably don’t have feelings of trust one way or another towards the person. However, you do choose to entrust the care of your vehicle to the person, a decision that may or may not be tied to any emotions.

As we study the emotions of joy and peace, we uncover a similar dynamic.

Defining Joy. Joy is a positive human condition that can either be a feeling or an action. [7] People sense or feel joy when they experience favorable circumstances. This nuance may often be used synonymously with happiness. This feeling of joy cannot be manufactured. However, as Scripture often reveals, joy may as well be a condition or even a decision that is experienced absent the emotion of happiness or joy. Jesus tells his disciples “rejoice and be glad” when others “revile and persecute you” (Matt 5:11-12). Paul commands the Philippian believers to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).  James directs believers to “count it all joy when you encounter trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines joy as the “appropriate response of the believer to the “good tidings of great joy” which constitute the gospel … in spite of the profound elements of grief and tragedy in [Jesus] life, His habitual demeanor was gladsome and joyous, certainly not gloomy or ascetic.”[8]

Taking into consideration the different lexicons and dictionaries,[9] let me offer my definition for joy. Joy is an inner state or condition of blessed contentment that manifest itself in a positive disposition.

Jesus informed the disciples that their sorrow would turn to joy. The world would rejoice at Jesus’ death. The disciples would grieve with intense sorrow, but that sorrow would turn to joy as Jesus rose from the dead and revealed himself to his disciples. Matthew tells us that the two Marys “departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (Matt 28:8). As well, Luke writes of Jesus appearance to the disciples in the upper room. “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41). His presence would be intensified and securely rooted in their lives as the Spirit would come at Pentecost and permanently indwell them. Therefore, through Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples (and all believers) are empowered to live in a perpetual state of inner contentment – joy.

Deffinbaugh. First and foremost, our joy is knowing for certain that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead (see Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:41, 52). Our joy is in the abasement of self, in the exaltation of Jesus Christ (see John 3:29), and in sacrificial service (Philippians 2:17). Our joy is in the Lord, in His salvation, and His working in the lives of others (Acts 15:3; Romans 15:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; 1 John 1:4; 3 John 4) . . . Consider the inference of these words. Christian joy is not to be found in having everything you‘ve ever wanted. Joy is not the lack of want, but rather in having needs so great that only God can fill them, and then in seeing Him provide for us in response to our prayers. The Father will give us what we have requested, so that we may experience great joy. In other words—words which we have heard before—joy is the result of abiding in Christ.[10]

Defining Peace. Peace as well carries two dynamics, an emotional dynamic as well as an objective reality not contingent on emotion.[11] Ultimate peace is a state of reconciliation with God resulting in a disposition of inner rest and freedom from anxiety. I include “ultimate” peace because people can experience a certain level of peace among themselves that is void of religion and God, but ultimate and lasting peace only comes as one is reconciled to God. I also acknowledge that anxiety can at times have physiological components, but the anxiety that originates from a lack of trust in God’s goodness and sovereignty is eliminated as we experience and dwell on our reconciliation with God. Therefore, ultimate peace includes the objective dynamic of our reconciliation with God and the emotional dynamic of inner rest and freedom from anxiety.

Jesus’ death and resurrection allow us to experience this peace. Paul writes in Romans, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Again Paul writes of this peace in Ephesians and Colossians.

For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:14–16).

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:20).

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we already possess ultimate peace, whether we feel it or not. Therefore, when we pray for peace, we pray for something we already possess. But, you might argue, “I’m wanting the emotion of peace!” Ok. The emotion of peace flows from our having been reconciled to God through Jesus and our constant focus on God and his work. The psalmist writes, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Ps 119:165). Isaiah writes, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3). God desires that you experience the emotion of peace. Paul prays this for the believers in Rome. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13). But, we must first understand that the emotion of peace originates and flows from our having been reconciled to God through Jesus.

When Jesus died and rose from the dead, he burst the chains of depression, bitterness, and anger and cleared the path for believers to not only experience the emotions of joy and peace but to embrace the objective reality of being reconciled to God through Jesus.

Three Clarifications

Joy comes through suffering. For the disciples to ever experience true and lasting joy and peace, Jesus had to be taken from them and suffer, to the point of death. In this narrative, Jesus likens this suffering and joy to a woman in labor. The woman experiences suffering and anguish through the birthing process but experiences joy at the birth of her child. We typically assume that positive situations and circumstances result in our joy. At times this is true. But quite often, lasting and meaningful joy comes by means of sorrow, grief, and suffering. Most certainly any meaningful and lasting joy you have ever experienced flowed from Christ’s sufferings. In addition, God often produces joy by means of our own suffering. The Apostle James speaks to this reality. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). Why? Because we know that these sufferings produce spiritual maturity in our lives. Something good came from suffering resulting in a sense of joy and peace. Suffering can produce peace and joy because suffering produces spiritual maturity in the life of a believer, assuming we want spiritual maturity.

Sorrow does not negate joy and peace. Often, amid devastation and gross immorality, we presume joy and peace must be absent, as if we cannot be angry while being joyful and full of peace. We might think, “I’m either angry or peaceful. I’m either grieving or joyful.”

Consider the present brokenness in our world. Major cities are experiencing immense unrest. Rioters commit great acts of immorality while at the same time manifest immense internal hurt and confusion. We can simultaneously hate their actions and hurt over their brokenness.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in Texas and Louisiana because of Hurricane Laura. I’m not suggesting in this message that our peace and joy should result in a lack of empathy, grief, and actual action on their behalf. We can simultaneously grieve with them and for them and still possess internal peace and joy.

How? Because our emotions have dual dynamics, we can possess internal rest while at the same time experience intense grief. We can sense righteous anger while remaining in a position of peace with God and possessing inner personal rest.

Point of practical application. You may mentally understand these two points while at the same time considering them to be impractical or out of reach. You may say, “I understand what you’re saying, but how does this work in the midst of a world gone mad?” Let me offer some practical steps.

(1) Digest less media. Lately I have personally struggled with a great deal of anger, frustration, and what might even feel like depression at times. I employ Twitter as my primary form of news because I can pick and choose the different news providers that fill my Twitter feed. As a result, after an hour or so on Twitter, I find myself angry and grumpy. The last few weeks I have purposed to be on Twitter less and chose to read books on Christian unity more (and threw in some Calvin and Hobbes for fun). I have experienced a great deal less anxiety and frustration. I remain informed while spending much less time on media. Spend less time on media and spend more time meditating on, listening to, or reading about things of God and his kingdom and his people.

(2) Avoid comment sections. Do not read the comments sections of media posts. Often the relevant news is only located in the primary post or article. The comments sections throughout media are the primary source of frustration and division. If you struggle with anxiety and anger, avoid the comments section entirely. If you cannot get yourself to not read the comments section, delete the app from your device and use some other source or no source at all.

(3) Unfollow provocative friends. One simple solution to not being angered by certain people is to unfollow or block those people.

(4) Read the Bible more. Pray more. Meditate on scriptural truth more. Pursue in real life friendships more that encourage and build up.

If you choose not to do these things and continue to swim in a pool of anger and frustration. Let me encourage you to stop complaining. It is foolish to keep swimming in the pool while not wanting to get wet.

The world cannot provide peace. The world does not have a paradigm or procedures or a plan in which they can produce peace. They may produce temporary peace at times through insignificant and temporary means, but never a peace that endures. As well they cannot transform hearts, even though they do all they can to transform behavior.

Jesus offers two evidences to this fact in John 16. (1) The world rejoices in immorality. Jesus informs the disciples that at his crucifixion they “will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (Jn 16:20). (2) Consider Jesus’ last statement in John 16, “in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). The world can only produce tribulation, chaos, and distress. They do not possess the means to produce peace and joy.

Purpose statement. The results of the death, burial, and resurrection (the Gospel) should solidify a perpetual state of joy and peace in the people of God.

[1] Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” Philip Schaff, ed., St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, trans. John Gibb and James Innes, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 388.

[2] Michaels, The Gospel of John, 839.

[3] Boice, The Gospel of John, 2005, 4:1222.

[4] Boice, 4:1222.

[5] Westcott and Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, 231–32.

[6] Borchert, John 12–21, 25B:172; Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, 1093; Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 245; Carson, The Gospel According to John, 543; Keener, The Gospel of John, 1043.

Borchert. The transitional double use of the “little while” here undoubtedly refers to the events of the forthcoming death and resurrection of Jesus, the departure of which had been alluded to using similar words in 7:33; 12:35; 13:33.

Lenski. The return of Jesus to his Sender brings such an advantage to the disciples (v. 7) in the coming and the work of the Paraclete that joy instead of great sorrow should fill their hearts. Now Jesus adds the further comfort that the separation shall be for “a little while” only. We have the same connection in 14:16, 17, the promise of the Paraclete, and v. 18, 19, the promise of Jesus’ coming and of the disciples’ beholding him. A little while, and you no longer behold me; and again a little while, and you shall see me. The separation is to be short. The first “little while” embraces only a few hours, the afternoon of this very day (Friday); the second “little while” shall be equally short.

Kostenberger. This ought to give his disciples a clear road map for what was to follow in short order: the arrest, the Jewish and Roman trials, the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection and appearances.

Carson. each bit of evidence makes most sense if this verse refers to Jesus’ departure in death and his return after his resurrection. The ‘little while’ after which the disciples will see Jesus no more has already been intimated both to the Jews (7:33) and to the disciples (13:33). Jesus will die. But then ‘after a little while’ his disciples will again see him: Jesus will rise from the dead. Some manuscripts add ‘because I am going to the Father’ to the end of the verse, probably to facilitate the transition to the second question in v. 17.

Keener. The Gospel repeatedly uses the familiar phrase “a little while” for the remaining days before Jesus’ hour of glorification, which begins with the cross (7:33; 12:35). In 16:16, the first “a little while” (μικρόν) refers to the hours remaining before the crucifixion (13:33); the second “a little while” refers to the brief interval between the crucifixion and the resurrection appearances (14:19; 16:19–20).

[7] “Joy,” Elwell and Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1224–25.

[8] D. Miall Edwards, “Joy,” ed. Orr, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1755.

[9] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 406.  χαρά, ᾶς, ἡ (1) literally joy, as a feeling of inner happiness rejoicing, gladness, delight (MT 2:10); (2) by metonymy; (a) the person or thing that is the cause or object of joy or happiness (LU 2:10; PH 4:1); (b) a state or condition of happiness or blessedness (MT 25:21; HE 12:2)

[10] Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-33)” (, n.d.)

[11] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 132. εἰρήνη, ης, ἡ peace . . . (3) as a religious disposition characterized by inner rest and harmony peace, freedom from anxiety (RO 15:13); (4) as a state of reconciliation with God (GA 5:22); (5) of an end-time condition, as the salvation of mankind brought about through Christ’s reign (LU 2:14; AC 10:36)