“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 16:33)
I recently visited a friend of mine. At the time, she was residing at a local rehabilitation center (i.e. nursing home) following a recent fall in her home resulting in a broken hip and the subsequent surgery to repair the break. While her body was battered, bruised and recovering from being broken, her spirit remains strong and resolute.
I’m sure you recently read about missionary John Allen Chau, 26. He perished on November 16, 2018 in a deadly bow and arrow attack by tribesmen desperate to keep him off their remote North Sentinel Island home off the coast of India.
Both my friend’s physical injuries, and a missionary’s death, illustrate in part what Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room just hours before His crucifixion. “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 only lasting source of peace and tranquility we may possess in this world is in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
Jesus made a truthful statement to the disciples. It is a statement which continues to ring true for disciples of Jesus today. The truth is this: “In the world you will have tribulation.”
The word “world” (κόσμος; kosmos) in this context refers not only to living on this planet. Rather, Jesus spoke more significantly of living as a Christian in the midst of a fallen world system of thought and behavior which constantly expresses a hatred for God and a rebellion against His Word.
Jesus said that in this fallen world, His disciples would face tribulation. Jesus did not say that His disciples might have tribulation, or could have tribulation, but rather would have tribulation. Jesus did not speak about a possibility of tribulation but rather the probability and even more accurately, the certainty of tribulation. This is a promise from God that we don’t often think of but which is just as certain as every other promise God has given.
The word tribulation (θλῖψις; thlipsis) may refer to suffering, distress, affliction or persecution. It may concern physical suffering, emotional distress, and even spiritual and physical persecution for one’s faith in Christ. It is a rock your world kind of trouble.
Have you ever experienced such trouble? I’m sure you have. I know many people who have and who are experiencing such tribulation. What are believers to do “when” such tribulation occurs?
Jesus’ answer to this question hinges on the singly conjunction “but.” The word invokes a contrasting idea to what has previously been stated or said. Jesus told His disciples “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
To take heart (θαρσέω; tharseo) means to presently and actively be courageous and to be bold. Jesus issued a command and not a suggestion or a request. He commanded the disciples to be people of strength and fearlessness. His words echo Joshua 1:1-9.
The reason for such courage and strength is because Jesus has overcome the world. Notice that Jesus did not say “I will overcome the world” though He would. Rather, He said “I have overcome the world” because He already had. The word “overcome (νικάω; nikao) means to conquer and to be a victor. Jesus has come and ruined Satan’s kingdom (Matthew 12:25-29) by His substitutionary atonement on the cross and His bodily resurrection from the dead.
One commentator explains that, “Jesus’ confidence that the Father would be with Him, we see in today’s passage, led Him to encourage the disciples that their upcoming failure to stand with Him would not be the end. Jesus was about to overcome the world, so He called the disciples to “take heart”—be confident and encouraged—in the midst of tribulation (John 16:33). When they would fail, they would be able to repent and return to God and be pardoned, for Christ would have overcome the world. When the world would assault them mercilessly, they would be able to escape total despair, for Christ’s overcoming the world would mean that nothing would finally be able to destroy them. The same is true for us today. When we face tribulations because of our own sin or the hostility of others, we are sustained by knowing that Christ has overcome the fallen world, including our own fallen selves.”
John Calvin writes, “As our sluggishness must be corrected by various afflictions, and as we must be awakened to seek a remedy for our distress, so the Lord does not intend that our minds shall be cast down, but rather that we shall fight keenly, which is impossible if we are not certain of success. For if we must fight, while we are uncertain of the result, all our zeal will quickly vanish. When, therefore, Christ calls us to the contest, He arms us with assured confidence of victory, though still we must toil hard.”
What, you may be thinking, are the weapons of our warfare? 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
John Calvin concludes, “We are beyond all danger, even in the midst of the combat.”
May truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!