Sermon: The Great Reversal; John 16:12-22

Sermon Audio

Sermon: People of God, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! We continue to look at St. John’s gospel. We have looked through several resurrection events and accounts. This morning we will take a step back and look into the Thursday before the Resurrection.

Notice first in verse 12 that Jesus begins by stating that He still has many things to tell them, but that they are not able to bear it now. That is to say, there are many truths that need to be developed and the disciples were not yet ready for them. They are not able to bear these truths until they experience them first. Though the disciples are not yet able to bear these things, Jesus is able to bear these things by dying on the cross, even to death. Jesus is not simply referring to a great body of truth that He needs to clarify or impart to His disciples; Jesus is speaking of His body, which must bear the pain of Calvary for the sake of His people. Truth is not merely intellectual propositions, it is tangible and physical. Jesus is the way and the truth, and the life, because He endured the Way, He became Truth, and He has become life for us. One commentator has written that:

“The entire, full truth is a heavy burden for him who is not yet ripe and strong enough for it.”[1]

The disciples are not yet ready to know the purpose and full implications of Jesus’ ministry and their own labors. But they will know soon enough.

In verse 13, we see why St. John has been called the gospel of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth will come and He will guide the disciples into all truth. But notice that He is not bringing some new message, rather He is speaking what the Father and the Son says. The Spirit is the One who confirms and validates the work of the Son. The text also says that He will guide you into all truth. It is a sad matter that some have interpreted such verses to say that we no longer need the institutional church or we no longer need undershepherds to guide us.[2] John has already declared that God ordains under-shepherds to guide His people from false doctrine. Teachers are called by God to instruct His people, as Paul says. In the Church, God manifests and reveals the mysteries of the gospel to His people. In the Church we find a pattern, so we may live throughout the week. The liturgy of the church is the liturgy of life. John is not calling us to intellectual anarchy, He is calling us to see that all truth is in Jesus Christ, but furthermore, all truth is embodied in the New World that Christ brings in His resurrection. The Spirit, in verse 13, will declare to you the things that are to come. What are the things to come? If we take this as a reference to the manifestations of the resurrection, then it is simple to see that John is referring to the kingdom of God. The things that are to come will fundamentally re-shape the present world. The disciples will see this re-shaping when they see the Resurrected Lord. And they will see the Spirit poured upon them at Pentecost.

In verses 14 & 15, the Bible says that the Spirit will declare what is Christ’s and declare it to the disciples when they are prepared. Calvin writes:

“Nothing, therefore, is bestowed on us by the Spirit apart from Christ, but he takes it from Christ, that he may communicate it to us.”[3]

Once again we see a declaration of deity.  What the Father possesses belong to the Son. The riches of the Father are equally the Son’s. This is certainly true, but the other side to this is that John is speaking of the Spirit as the great gift to humanity. The Spirit is the gift of the Father to the Son and that becomes the proclamation of the New World. The declaration to the disciples is not just that Jesus will be raised from the dead, though this is central in this narrative, but it is also that the Spirit is being given to the disciples from the Father.  In summary, John is telling the readers that the Father is sending the Spirit to reveal and declare the glory of the Son. The Father, Son, and Spirit are working together to accomplish for the world what the world could never accomplish for itself.

The remaining of this passage is somewhat difficult to grasp. At first glance it seems like there is a lot of needless repetition. The text uses the poetic device of repetition; one of the most common devices in the ancient world. This repetition is used because the gospel writer wants to emphasize the centrality of what is going to happen in the life of Jesus. Seven times in our narrative John records the use of “a little while.” This phrase is highly significant. In fact, the entire conversation centers on defining what this phrase means. Jesus says in verse 16: “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” The disciples are puzzled by what Jesus said. Certainly this is not the first time they are puzzled. But as the events unfold in the next few days the disciples will begin to understand the meaning of these words. Remember that Jesus has already said that they are not yet able to bear what he has to say to them.

Let us look a bit further to this statement Jesus makes in verse 16. Notice that the word “see” is used two times in this verse. “A little while and you will see me no longer and a little while and you will see me. The first word for “see” is a reference to the mere physical appearance. The second word is different from the first. In fact, the second use of the word “see” is a bit stronger. “The word has the additional meaning of a further discernment or understanding of something. Not just an outward observation. It is an inner understanding.”[4] Jesus is saying, “In a little while you will no longer see my physically; I will be in a tomb…but then in a little while you will truly see me.” That is, they would see Christology. They would see Jesus as the resurrected Lord. They would see Him as God/Man; the One who has been vindicated by the Father.

In the last two centuries liberal theologians[5] have distinguished between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. However, in the resurrection, that distinction does not exist. Our faith is in a historical Christ; One who appeared before 5,000 witnesses and changed the complexion of the world. Jesus’ resurrection would take the disciples’ doubts away; they would finally “SEE” Christ and affirm as Thomas did: My Lord and my God!

In verses 17-19 we find a strange series of reactions. The disciples “elaborate repetition of Jesus’ words in private and again in verse 18, according Herman Ridderbos, “underscores the incomprehension spoken in these words.”[6] There is a sense of fear from the disciples in asking the obvious question, “What does a little while mean?” Jesus’ response in verse 19 is not covered in anger. He is rather quite willing to tell them, as indeed He has told again and again these things. Certainly there are times in which our Lord emphatically rebukes his disciples, but the general pattern of the conversations with Jesus and his disciples is generally a pattern of patience. Our Lord explained these things with patience, because He knew He was speaking to men, who would lay the foundation of this NEW WORLD; who would lay the foundation of the Church. Jesus then explains what He means by “a little while and you will not see Me and a little while and you will see Me” by offering a picture of the resurrection, but also a picture of the future of history. This section describes “The Great Reversal.” The dark night of the soul becomes the great morning of hope. The disciples will enter into sorrow knowing that their sorrow will turn into joy. This is the hope of the resurrection before the resurrection. It is our hope today after the resurrection; that our night will turn into day and our sorrow into joy. This is our present hope. But for the disciples there will be anguish and fear. C.S. Lewis once wrote that grief is like fear.[7] The disciples will grieve when their Master dies and it will be a fearful thing. Their hopes will seem to have vanquished. Their mission will seem to have failed. They will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. But this is precisely why the Lord Jesus added two promises to the disciples. First, that just as He would be gone for a little while, He would return in a little while. He will be with them again. But secondly, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit. You will know why I am going in a little while, so that when you see me you will know that I will be with you always, and my Spirit will be with you to assist you and teach you all things. When all things appear to be lost, the world will rejoice.

They will have believed that they have triumphed over our Lord. “Fallen men shall rejoice at my crucifixion, while ye are sorrowful. But at my resurrection there will be a reversal and the joy shall be yours. At the time of the crucifixion, people were jeering and taunting him. The wicked men were joyful at Christ’s suffering. They rejoice over the Lord’s seeming defeat.”[8] R.J. Rushdoony once stated:

“The world today wants to rejoice at every apparent defeat Christ’s church suffers, but our God is in the resurrection business. And every seeming defeat becomes a triumph.”[9]

Jesus adds an illustration to make His point about the effects of the resurrection. “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.” This imagery is associated with the literal pain of childbirth. But the point of the illustration is not merely to compare the disciples’ loss with pain; it is to compare the pain of Christ’s death to the glory of the NEW WORLD.

“The particular item of joy is not that it is over, but that it has accomplished its end. Jesus is saying that these three days are the turning point of history. This is salvation for the world. The old man in Adam is gone away; the new man is born. Jesus brings in a new humanity. Easter inaugurates the definitive Day of the Lord. Everything is changed as a result of the work of Jesus Christ.”[10]

Most translations will say that a “human being” has been born into the world. The Greek word is a very common one, a;nqrwpoj. Literally, a “man” has been born into the world. This woman is birthing a new humanity in Jesus Christ. He is the true man birthed into new life from the darkness of the womb to the light of the world; from the darkness of the tomb to the light of the world. The great reversal occurs. Those who wept will now sing and those who mourned will now dance. The resurrection brings joy to each disciple, but it also will bring joy to the world.

How shall we then live and think?

First, this joy is not merely a personal joy, it is a cosmic joy. All the promises of God began to be fulfilled at His resurrection. The resurrection inaugurates the undoing of the fall. The fall is being reversed even in our own day. Consider the illustration given[11]of giving birth. In his great article The History of Childbirth, James Martell details the enormous advantages of giving birth today as opposed to the last century. The death rate for women giving birth was enormously high. Many babies died minutes after birth. Today, the percentage of death for children being born in dire circumstances has diminished significantly. I could go on and on.[12] But I only observe that the resurrection begins to undo the physical effects of the fall and we should expect to see more and more miracles in the field of medicine.[13] I have been asked a few times, since my arrival here, how many children Christian parents should have. My answer has been nuanced[14] because there are too many circumstances to consider. But my general premise is that we should be in the business of defeating the pagan way of thinking in all matters of life, even when considering how many children you should have. I have heard healthy Christian women uttering the same type of pagan thinking heard in Hollywood: Children are an inconvenience; they will ruin my body. If the most fundamental premises of the Christian family, that of dominion and the blessings of God in children as Psalm 128 tells us are being neglected, this is a sign that the Church has a long way to go in discipling the nations.

Secondly, consider that Christ teaches us through suffering and grief. Suffering leads people to consider things they have never considered before. In suffering, people begin to ask questions they have never asked before. The Gospels teach us that the disciples asked many questions in the days leading to the crucifixion and during the three days before Christ was raised. Trials are purifying. In suffering, we need to remember that God will never give His own more than they are able to endure. We know loved ones who are near death. You must know that God is not blind to the suffering of His people. He sees them. He hears them. And He comforts them. Suffering is a gift from God says Paul in Philippians. Not everyone is called to this gift, but if you are called, God says we should count these trials with all joy.[15]

Finally, we read in John 10 that no one is able to snatch God’s sheep from His hands. In John 16,  no one will take your joy from you. Sorrow will come. That is unquestionable. But joy will never depart. This is also unquestionable. “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.”

Our joy in this Easter Season is a joy that is eternally connected with that historical day when Jesus rose from the dead. On that day, the world, which mocked our Lord, cried; and we, His people, rejoice and dance for Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.


[1] Luthardt, Quoted in Thomas Whitelaw’s commentary on John.

[2] Paul states again and again that teachers are gifts to the body; and even John himself writes in John 10 of the necessity of undershepherds.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on John.

[4] Dennis Tuuri, Sermon on John 16. Reformed Covenant Church in Oregon City, Oregon.

[5] See Rushdoony’s commentary on John and his classic work: “The One and the Many.”

[6] Herman Ridderbos, Commentary on John.

[7] Quotation found in Dennis Tuuri’s lecture on John; see The Great Divorce.

[8] R.J. Rushdoony, Commentary on John.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dennis Tuuri.

[11] Here is an interesting summary of the history of childbirth: http://thehistoryof.net/history-of-childbirth.html

[12] Certainly we could observe the dangers of modern medicine. The abortion industry is the other side of this matter.

[13] Note also that people are living longer and longer.

[14] Douglas Wilson has touched on this subject in one of the Canon Wired videos.

[15] James 1:2.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in John, Sermons/Easter. Bookmark the permalink.

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