John's Gospel 16: 16-24 Jesus tells of his departure from earth

An Exposition: Jesus tells of his departure and return

16 "A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father."

17 Then some of His disciples said among themselves, "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 go to the Father'?" 18 They said therefore, "What is this that He says, 'A little while'? We do not know what He is saying."

19 Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'? 20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. 21 A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

23 "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:16 to 24 (NKJV)


We have before us a set of verses that are essentially around one theme, the going and coming of Christ.

There is clearly two ways we can interpret this passage:

(1)  Jesus in a week's time was to die on the cross and leave the disciples for a little while - for three days and three nights. Then he would return to be with them, again, for a while.

(2)  We could also interpret this passage with a much wider view.
Jesus had been with the disciples for 3 years, he had been on earth for about 33 years, and he was about to return to his Father. This is clearly the tenant of the first 15 verses of this chapter - in as much as Christ was returning to His Father, the saints in this world would not be left alone, because the Holy Spirit would be sent - as the Comforter, an Advocate, a Helper, as the Counsellor - who would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment as we find in John 16:8 (NKJV). But Christ Himself would descend and gather His own to himself.

Part 1

It is clear from this passage the disciples did not always understand what the Lord said. They behave just as we do when we find we cannot fathom the Word - they muttered amongst themselves, with none taking the opportunity to actually ask the author of the words.

How often do we not when pondering some Scripture and come upon a hard passage - and don't doubt me, there are some very hard passages, which even the most able have trouble understanding - fall on our knees before the Lord and ask Him, the author of the words to reveal their meaning.

The Lord may not answer straight away or in the manner you would like - like food, the strength thereof depends upon our age - our maturity. Don't grapple with Hebrews 10 before understanding, right from the bottom of your heart, John 3:16. But as we are reminded by Jesus "that to everyone who has will be given more" Luke 19:26 (NKJV).

Jesus, as he always had been, up to this time, been very mindful of the feebleness of man's heart, perceives their anxiety and goes on to explain the consequence of His words.

In verse 19 we see:

19 Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'?

Part 2

Before we ascertain the time of which the Lord spoke, let as understand where Jesus was going. The passage plainly states the Lord would be going away for a little while: so where was he going?

19 "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'?

In verse 16 we see that the reason He was leaving was because he was returning to His Father. We could ask, did this happen? And we would find that, yes it did. In The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, a doctor, Jesus is observed rising into the clouds. Then an angel comes and explains what has happened, the Holy Spirit is sent, being evidence of the acceptance of Christ, as our propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10 ), and 6 chapters later, Stephen declares the Son of God is standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56 ).

Hence, Jesus is to return to His Father. Now this is not at all puzzling, for since the disciples have surmised that Jesus is about to die, He would, therefore, be going to the Father - although, perhaps in the minds of some if not all the disciples, "the Father" may have been Father Abraham, not God the Father.

The Jews referred to Abraham, often, as father Abraham, being the patriarch of the people of Israel - for example Joshua 2423 , or Luke 19:30 . We of course are in a different situation. The reason we can call the Lord God Jehovah, "Father", is simply because the Holy Spirit enables us.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Galatians 4:6 (NKJV)

We would not be able to approach God as Father, unless had adopted us as sons. This was accomplished by Christ Himself, on the cross -

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Galatians 4:4-6 (NKJV)

Part 3

The next question; what is the consequence of this departure?

And Jesus replies:

20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. John 16:20 (KJV)

The time of absence of Christ from this world was to be a time of joy for the world but a time of sorrow for believers (Ryle, John vol 2 pg 149). When Jesus was crucified, the Jews were glad, but the disciples mourned (Mark 16:10 ). The Jews did not want Christ. He came to His own but His own received Him not (John 1:11 ). The Jews had cried out "away with Him, away with Him" and stated "we have no King but Caesar" (John 19:15 ). The wickedness of man had not changed at all. The world did not want Christ, and certainly do not want him back.

1 Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
3 "Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us." Psalm 2:1-3 (NKJV)

In essence we still mourn today. The Lords Supper is evidence of this. We worship and adore Christ, for who he is, but our separation from him limits the extent of our joy. The day will come when face to face we will know joy, for what He really is. The persecution we see around us is evidence of this. Perhaps not so much here, but elsewhere.

Part 4

We now need to decide what period this passage applies to. It is apparent to me, and not very satisfying to apply this passage to the 3 days Christ spent in the grave. Certainly these things happened, but the limiting of these words to only a point in time is too narrow. Further, the passage does not explain actually what happened - Jesus went (to the cross), came (rose from the dead and appeared to many), then went again (returned to the Father). Furthermore, the true realisation of the crucifixion only took place after Jesus had appeared to them, and after he had ascended to heaven. And lastly Jesus Himself states He is speaking in "a figurative language" John 16:25 . I believe these words have a much wider application. The application of Scripture that deals with a point in time to a whole epoch of time is not new and was certainly understood by the Jews.

What the is passage is talking about is that Christ was with man on earth - man rejected Him, he returned to His Father after dealing with sin - and has gone to prepare a place for us, as he promised - John 14

1 Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe on God, believe also on me. 2 In my Father's house there are many abodes; were it not so, I had told you: for I go to prepare you a place; 3 and if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be. (John 14 JND).

And he is returning. In the meantime, the world rejoices that he is not here and we who love Christ, mourn. In fact the world cares so little they neither think upon him nor heed his precepts. But the time is coming when Christ will return and a complete change will occur:

22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

Note the last phrase - "no one will take from you". This is indeed a blessed thing - our joy will be full, overflowing and abundant - and no one will take it from us. But there are instructions to those that wait upon the Lord - wait for his coming - while Christ is absent those who believe - the saints - need to ask much in prayer.

This is instructive. Verse 23 tells us the right way to pray.

(1)  What are we asking? Here "ask" is to seek or petition (as distinct from asking a question, the Greek "ask" in the first part of this verse). We may ask anything (whatever you ask). Of course a true believer asks only what glorifies the Father - this is our task. It is no different than a child knowing that asking her mother for a bag of lollies for school lunch will not receive such a request - the analogy applies to us.

(2)  Who are we asking? We are asking the Father. Note it is the Father, not the Lord God Almighty - the relationship between God and us (the believer) has forever changed - changed by the blood of Christ. The OT saints could only look forward to this day.

(3)  And in what manner do we pray? We ask in the Name of Jesus - "in my name" - the sweetest name of all.

"Proclaim aloud the Saviour's fame,
Who bears the Breaker's wond'rous name;
Sweet name; and it becomes him well,
Who breaks down earth, sin, death, and hell." (Spurgeon, Morning & Evening, Aug 24)

(4)  And the promise? He will give it. What a wonderful promise. Ask the Father in His name and he will give it. Give anything? No, it does not say this, but we glorify God by our reliance on Him. This is what He desires. We have a need (and we all have needs), we therefore rely on the Father, knowing the Sovereign Lord will work out everything to the good to those who love God.

Part 5

Now just a few words on the occasion of this passage, i.e. its timing.

I heard a man the other day state it did not really matter what was going to happen or what we believed would happen, so long as we believed in Jesus Christ. Although there is no denying that belief in Christ is paramount, the Scripture is given, all of it, for our edification:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV)

There is clearly a lot of confusion amongst Saints about the end times (and this meditation will not go into details of the End Times). This again should not be a surprise, because Jesus said the enemy would come and sow tares: and this he has done, causing great confusion. To read The Revelation[2] in any way but the order in which the Holy Spirit gave it to John destroys its meaning. To assume that Chapter 20 of The Revelation comes before the Tribulation takes the passage completely out of the order the Lord God Most High planned and wrote the events. You might say, well it does not really matter when the millennium reign occurs (which is what Chapter 20 is about), but your belief in this aspect of the end time actually affects your attitude towards God.

If you believe the world is actually going to become a better place and once the gospel is accepted across all four corners of the world Jesus will then return (1) you are clearly deluded - the world even by the world's standards is getting worse and (2) you become complacent. You become complacent by the very fact that individuals will always take the route of least resistance - believing the world will become better, with or without your help, means you will tend not to help.

On the other hand if you believe Jesus is coming for His saints only after he has punished this world, hence placing the Church in the Tribulation, you deny His words, and you cause unnecessary anxiety. Christians are not going to be judged for their sin - Christ has taken that upon himself - for this is what the Tribulation does - punishes, essentially Israel and the nations, for their rejection of Christ and will last 7 years. That is why we are Christians - we believe that Christ died in our stead for our sins and therefore will not be punished. Furthermore, in Revelation 3:10 it states that Church will be kept from the hour of trial and Paul elaborates to the Thessalonians:

15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 (NKJV)

We can, as we have this morning, partake in the Lords Supper with great joy - the joy of knowing we were saved, not by anything we could do, or did do, but through Jesus Christ, and furthermore, we perform this action until He comes for us. Hence, we live in the age where Christ is absent, yet we know He will return. We don't know when this will be, but we do know he is coming: "surely I am coming quickly" as the penultimate verse of Scripture records. The Church will be taken out of this world before the last days - before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Even Jesus did not know the exact day - only God knows. Hence, we cannot be complacent. There is urgency to our task - our friends and neighbours who do not know Christ are in desperate need of a remedy to the impending last days - this can only be supplied by Christ and this remedy may be needed before the day is out.

14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" Romans 10:14-10 (NKJV)

Part 6

What is our response to this passage?

Our face therefore should be fixed on His coming. Are you waiting for His coming? We certainly look backward to the cross, but our hope is looking forward to His return.

We are called upon to rely on the Lord each step of every day, in pray. We are called to be men and women of prayer. It is our duty to pray. We pray to the Father though Jesus.

We are called to be a people of hope. We know Christ is returning. When he does, any distress we are suffering now will be forgotten, just as a women post partum forgets the pain she went through, for the joy of having a baby (verse 21).

We have the hope of knowing that at His coming, our joy will be full, and it will not be taken away from us. This should bolster any failing heart.


[1] These are brief notes used for a short meditation on the given passage. They follow on from Chapter 16, 1-15. By no means are they an in depth discussion on the fullness of the words of Jesus. The reader's attention is again drawn to Bishop JC Ryle's excellent exposition on John: Ryle J.C. (1982 reprint) Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. John. Volume 4, Baker House, Michigan, pg 129. Available online at (Accessed August 2014)

[2] Note it is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" not the Revelations - see verse 1 of chapter one.

David L Simon (12 June 2004, edited 11 November 2008 CCC)