Teaching in the Upper Room: The Fear of the Unknown
Losing the perceived control of our lives is unnerving. Future events hang over our heads as our thoughts race to the worst possible scenario while waiting for a diagnosis, the results of an exam, or other life-changing news. The trepidation the disciples experienced in the Upper Room was no different as they struggled to understand the Lord’s sayings. If they could have understood what the Lord was telling them that night, they would have learned, as we need to learn, that there is no need to fear the unknown will of God since we are loved of the Father. The unknown would bring joy and victory without fear.
16:1-4 - Absence of Christ will bring Persecution to His Followers
16:5-15 – The Spirit and His Twofold Work
16:16-33 – ‘A Little While’ and ‘I go to the Father’
16:16-22 – A Little While
V16-20 – Question of “A Little While”
The disciples’ apprehension in response to verse 16demonstrates their fear of what awaited them if the Lord would depart, and they couldn’t follow Him, and they wouldn’t see Him. If we were in the same position, without the Holy Spirit, we would share their perplexity. (Jn 16:12)
Their question concerns “a little while.” A little while and they would not behold Him any longer, yet in a little while they would see Him. The disciples discussed among themselves what this could mean. V19 shows the Lord knew what they wanted to ask Him and addressed the matter.
These little whiles are two time periods. Verse 20 explains that in the first little while they would weep and wail, while the world would rejoice. They would no longer have Him to behold among them; their Messianic expectations crushed, their Deliverer crucified, the world meanwhile celebrating the removal of the one who convicted them of sin.
The second little while is when they would be sorrowful, but their sorrow would be turned into joy. They would see Him as He appeared to them and bring joy, though they would not see Him as they saw Him before His death. This joy would be the result of seeing the resurrected Christ. When the Lord later appeared in the upper room to the fearful company, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (Jn 20:20)
V21-22 – Illustration of Sorrow and Joy
The Lord compares their sorrow in the first little while and rejoicing in the second little while with a woman in labour, who forgets her great pain once the newborn is laid on her chest. So it will be for the disciples. They are told, “I will see you again.” The unknown would bring unending joy.
16:23-33 – Because I go to the Father
V23-28 – The Disciples and the Father
The Lord now addresses the second question of the disciples. V23 and v26 both open with “in that day.” “That day” is the day when Christ will have gone to the Father and the Spirit of God enters the world. In Christ’s absence, it would create an unprecedented relationship: the Fatherhood of God to the individual. The resurrected Lord relays this truth to Mary Magdalene while distinguishing His own Sonship from His brethren’s: “go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” (Jn 20:17)
Mark the different usages of ask in this passage. In v23, Jesusexplains that “in that day,” since He was gone to the Father, “they would ask Him nothing.” This ask is the same as v19:“they were desirous to ask Him,” also seen in v26b and v30. Then He says, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.” This ask is the same as v24 and v26a. The Lord is telling the disciples that they would not enquire of Him as they had before, but they ought to make these inquiries as requests to the Father and He would answer. We may think, “if only the Lord Jesus were here to ask.” Yet whatever sincere question we have, the Father will answer. The receiving in prayer brings joy.
Why does the Father answer? The Lord tells us in v26-27. It is not because the Lord Jesus is entreating the Father to answer us. The Father answers our requests in prayer because He loves us. One, because we have loved the Son; and two, since we have believed that He came from God. This love of the Father is special and tells us we are in His family.
The disciples have learned that this new relationship with the God of heaven, God as Father to the individual believer, has come about because their Master fulfilled all in relation to the Father. V28 also gives an outline for John’s Gospel, as does John 1:10-12.
V29-33 – The Disciples and the World
The disciples profess that they now understand and believe what the Lord is saying, yet the Lord will challenge them. In v31 His question and response shows that they don’t nearly comprehend what they suppose.
The Lord predicts, with Zechariah 13:7 in view, that the disciples would be scattered when the Shepherd was smitten. They would flee Gethsemane and go their own way after His death. It would take the women who came to the tomb to summon these disciples to view the empty tomb, and the Lord Himself to draw back those who went fishing in John 21. The Lord would be left alone, yet His Father would be with Him.
Comforting words close the chapter for the disciples fearing the unknown: “in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world” (NET). Peace is promised in the midst of tribulation, knowable to mankind because our Lord has conquered the world. We too are overcomers of the world through our faith. (1 Jn 5:4) Like the disciples, we don’t need to fear an uncertain future in the will of God, for we are in the hand of a God who loves and cares.