“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “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 am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 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. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:16-22).
Sometimes we can be puzzled by what the Bible says. Here the disciples are confused by the words of Jesus in verse 16: ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ His words seem to be contradictory. In a little while they are to see him and not see him. We can see what he meant because we know what happened to Jesus and the disciples. In a little while they were to be separated after Jesus was arrested; then three days later, after the second ‘little while’, they would be reunited after the resurrection of Jesus.
Their experience is often duplicated in our lives. We can struggle to understand some teachings in the Bible or we can go through hard times that seem too much for us to bear. On such occasions we wonder what God is saying or doing.
In this case, their dilemma is resolved by Jesus giving to them further instruction. We might say that it will not be so easy for us because we do not have Jesus present with us physically. Yet we do have Christ’s teachings recorded in the New Testament and we have the Holy Spirit to teach us.
Jesus explains to his disciples that they are about to experience great sorrow. At the same time as they are sorrowing, the world is going to be rejoicing. The period of great sorrow would be the three days when Jesus was dead. During that time, there would be a celebration taking place among the Jewish leaders because they will think that they have destroyed Jesus. It is hard for Christians to appreciate the degree with which these people hated the Saviour. But their celebration would cease when the soldiers who guarded the tomb arrived with the news that the tomb was empty. Instead of rejoicing, there was regret. It was so different with the disciples. During the three days when Jesus was dead, they would be very sad, but on the resurrection day they would be very glad (John 20:20).
The illustration of the pain of an expectant mother would have told the disciples that the sorrow they were about to experience would have a happy conclusion. Yet it teaches more than that. Jesus does not say to the disciples that their sorrow would be replaced by joy, instead he says that it will be turned into joy. The cause of their sorrow, just as with the sorrow of the mother, will become the cause of their joy. What happened to Jesus when he was arrested made them sad; in the days ahead, once they had been reunited with him, what happened to Jesus would become the source of their joy.