Jesus is continuing His “Farewell Discourse” here, and today’s text is a continuation of what He was saying in our previous text. You might recall that we ended last time with verse 16 as transition from His discussion about the Holy Spirit into His discussion of the death, burial and resurrection. We will begin with verse 16 not only as transition but as the determining verse relative to the context and subject to be discussed in the remainder of chapter 16.
Although I always try to avoid discussing Greek words and grammar in these lessons, it is unavoidable here, for the English translation in the NIV (and most other English translations) does not note the fact that while we see the English word “see” twice in this verse, two different Greek verbs are used and translated “see.” We need to recognize that in English, the word “see” can mean two different things. It can mean to comprehend as in “…oh yes, I see what you mean.” Or it can mean that I physically see something as in “…do you see that house over there?” In verse 16, the first “see” is the Greek verb theoreo from which we get our English word theory. It generally means to observe or to experience visually. The second “see” is the Greek word horao which means to see in a broader sense. John has used it several times already in this Gospel (1:18,34,51; 6:46; 11:40) more in the sense of ‘seeing spiritually’ or comprehending. While these two words are reasonably close synonyms, the difference here is telling; it’s as though Jesus were telling them that they soon would not be able to see him with their eyes (death, burial) but shortly they will realize who He is and what He has done (resurrection). This double meaning will continue through this passage; it will continue along the lines of He will then be taken from their sight for a time (ascension) and then will return to sight (Second Coming) where even unbelievers will “get it.”
The disciples are buzzing; they are not caught in any great eschatological debate for they still are confused about His imminent departure. Jesus doesn’t wait for the question and asks it Himself. Notice that this is the third time it is repeated in a very short span of verses; this is no coincidence, for it would appear that John is putting great emphasis on the statement. Even today we take comfort from the fact that we will see Jesus in a little while.
In verses 20-22, Jesus combines two contrasting emotions: Grief and joy. Their grief will result in a paralyzing fear that causes them to scatter and hide, but not for very long. They will then be filled with a joy that will remain with them even in times of severe trial, for they will understand His promises. Going a little further, He illustrates this by reminding them of the pain and agony that a woman endures during childbirth. Upon the arrival of the child, her grief and pain are all but forgotten, so filled with joy is she when she sees her baby.
Now in 23-24 we again have a little problem with English. This time the confusion is in the word “ask.” The first “ask” is translated from a Greek word meaning to ask a question while the second three “asks” are from a Greek word that means to make a request. In the first case, they will not ask Him questions because a) they will comprehend much more, and b) the Holy Spirit will be in place to provide understanding. In the second three cases, He is once again making reference to the fact that they will enjoy a very powerful prayer life. He also mentions the aspect of joy, a joy that will remain with them. It is important to notice the connection between “joy” and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate gift of God that cements their full restoration to the Father. Jesus will continue along these lines when we get back together, next time…