Christ's Departure and Return; Sorrow and Joy Foretold.
16 A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while,
and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. 17 Then said some of his
disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little
while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall
see me: and, Because I go to the Father? 18 They said therefore, What is
this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. 19 Now
Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye
enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not
see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? 20 Verily, verily,
I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice:
and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. 21
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but
as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish,
for joy that a man is born into the world. 22 And ye now therefore have
sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your
joy no man taketh from you.
Our Lord Jesus, for the comfort of his sorrowful disciples, here promises
that he would visit them again.
I. Observe the intimation he gave them of the comfort he designed them,
v. 16. Here he tells them,
1. That they should now shortly lose the sight of him: A little while,
and you that have seen me so long, and still desire to see me, shall not
see me; and therefore, if they had any good question to ask him, they must
ask quickly, for he was now taking his leave of them. Note, It is good
to consider how near to a period our seasons of grace are, that we may
be quickened to improve them while they are continued. Now our eyes see
our teachers, see the days of the Son of man; but, perhaps, yet a little
while, and we shall not see them. They lost the sight of Christ, (1.) At
his death, when he withdrew from this world, and never after showed himself
openly in it. The most that death does to our Christian friends is to take
them out of our sight, not out of being, not out of bliss, but out of all
relation to us, only out of sight, and then not out of mind. (2.) At his
ascension, when he withdrew from them (from those who, after his resurrection,
had for some time conversed with him), out of their sight; a cloud received
him, and, though they looked up steadfastly after him, they saw him no
more, Acts i. 9, 10; 2 Kings ii. 12. See 2 Cor. v. 16.
2. That yet they should speedily recover the sight of him; Again a little
while, and you shall see me, and therefore you ought not to sorrow as those
that have no hope. His farewell was not a final farewell; they should see
him again, (1.) At his resurrection, soon after his death, when he showed
himself alive, by many infallible proofs, and this in a very little while,
not forty hours. See Hos. vi. 2. (2.) By the pouring out of the Spirit,
soon after his ascension, which scattered the mists of ignorance and mistake
they were almost lost in, and gave them a much clearer insight into the
mysteries of Christ's gospel than they had yet had. The Spirit's coming
was Christ's visit to his disciples, not a transient but a permanent one,
and such a visit as abundantly retrieved the sight of him. (3.) At his
second coming. They saw him again as they removed one by one to him at
death, and they shall see him together at the end of time, when he shall
come in the clouds, and every eye shall see him. It might be truly said
of this that it was but a little while, and they should see him; for what
are the days of time, to the days of eternity? 2 Pet. iii. 8, 9.
3. He assigns the reason: "Because I go to the Father; and therefore,"
(1.) "I must leave you for a time, because my business calls me to the
upper world, and you must be content to spare me, for really my business
is yours." (2.) "Therefore you shall see me again shortly, for the Father
will not detain me to your prejudice. If I go upon your errand, you shall
see me again as soon as my business is done, as soon as is convenient."
It should seem, all this refers rather to his going away at death, and
return at his resurrection, than his going away at the ascension, and his
return at the end of time; for it was his death that was their grief, not
his ascension (Luke xxiv. 52), and between his death and resurrection it
was indeed a little while. And it may be read, not, yet a little while
(it is not eti mikron, as it is ch. xii. 35), but mikron--for a little
while you shall not see me, namely, the three days of his lying in the
grave; and again, for a little while you shall see me, namely, the forty
days between his resurrection and ascension. Thus we may say of our ministers
and Christian friends, Yet a little while, and we shall not see them, either
they must leave us or we must leave them, but it is certain that we must
part shortly, and yet not part for ever. It is but a good night to those
whom we hope to see with joy in the morning.
II. The perplexity of the disciples upon the intimation given them;
they were at a loss what to make of it (v. 17, 18); Some of them said,
softly, among themselves, either some of the weakest, that were least able,
or some of the most inquisitive, that were most desirous, to understand
him, What is this that he saith to us? Though Christ had often spoken to
this purport before, yet still they were in the dark; though precept be
upon precept, it is in vain, unless God gave the understanding. Now see
here, 1. The disciples' weakness, in that they could not understand so
plain a saying, to which Christ had already given them a key, having told
them so often in plain terms that he should be killed, and the third day
rise again; yet, say they, We cannot tell what he saith; for, (1.) Sorrow
had filled their heart, and made them unapt to receive the impressions
of comfort. The darkness of ignorance and the darkness of melancholy commonly
increase and thicken one another; mistakes cause griefs, and then griefs
confirm mistakes. (2.) The notion of Christ's secular kingdom was so deeply
rooted in them that they could make no sense at all of those sayings of
his which they knew not how to reconcile with that notion. When we think
the scripture must be made to agree with the false ideas we have imbibed,
no wonder that we complain of difficulty; but when our reasonings are captivated
to revelation, the matter becomes easy. (3.) It should seem, that which
puzzled them was the little while. If he must go at least, yet they could
not conceive how he should leave them quickly, when his stay hitherto had
been so short, and so little while, comparatively. Thus it is hard for
us to represent to ourselves that change as near which yet we know will
come certainly, and may come suddenly. When we are told, Yet a little while
and we must go hence, yet a little while and we must give up our account,
we know not how to digest it; for we always took the vision to be for a
great while to come, Ezek. xii. 27. 2. Their willingness to be instructed.
When they were at a loss about the meaning of Christ's words, they conferred
together upon it, and asked help of one another. By mutual converse about
divine things we both borrow the light of others and improve our own. Observe
how exactly they repeat Christ's words. Though we cannot fully solve every
difficulty we meet with in scripture, yet we must not therefore throw it
by, but revolve what we cannot explain, and wait till God shall reveal
even this unto us.
III. The further explication of what Christ had said.
1. See here why Christ explained it (v. 19); because he knew they were
desirous to ask him, and designed it. Note, The knots we cannot untie we
must bring to him who alone can give an understanding. Christ knew they
were desirous to ask him, but were bashful and ashamed to ask. Note, Christ
takes cognizance of pious desires, though they be not as yet offered up,
the groanings that cannot be uttered, and even anticipates them with the
blessings of his goodness. Christ instructed those who he knew were desirous
to ask him, though they did not ask. Before we call, he answers. Another
reason why Christ explained it was because he observed them canvassing
this matter among themselves: "Do you enquire this among yourselves? Well,
I will make it easy to you." This intimates to us who they are that Christ
will teach: (1.) The humble, that confess their ignorance, for so much
their enquiry implied. (2.) The diligent, that use the means they have:
"Do you enquire? You shall be taught. To him that hath shall be given."
2. See here how he explained it; not by a nice and critical descant
upon the words, but by bringing the thing more closely to them; he had
told them of not seeing him, and seeing him, and they did not apprehend
the meaning, and therefore he explains it by their sorrowing and rejoicing,
because we commonly measure things according as they affect us (v. 20):
You shall weep and lament, for my departure, but the world shall rejoice
in it; and you shall be sorrowful, while I am absent, but, upon my return
to you, your sorrow will be turned into joy. But he says nothing of the
little while, because he saw that this perplexed them more than any thing;
and it is of no consequence to us to know the times and the seasons. Note,
Believers have joy or sorrow according as they have or have not a sight
of Christ, and the tokens of his presence with them.
(1.) What Christ says here, and in v. 21, 22, of their sorrow and joy,
is primarily to be understood of the present state and circumstances of
the disciples, and so we have,
[1.] Their grief foretold: You shall weep and lament, and you shall
be sorrowful. The sufferings of Christ could not but be the sorrow of his
disciples. They wept for him because they loved him; the pain of our friend
is a pain to ourselves; when they slept, it was for sorrow, Luke xxii.
45. They wept for themselves, and their own loss, and the sad apprehensions
they had of what would become of them when he was gone. It could not but
be a grief to lose him for whom they had left their all, and from whom
they had expected so much. Christ has given notice to his disciples beforehand
to expect sorrow, that they may treasure up comforts accordingly.
[2.] The world's rejoicing at the same time: But the world shall rejoice.
That which is the grief of saints is the joy of sinners. First, Those that
are strangers to Christ will continue in their carnal mirth, and not at
all interest themselves in their sorrows. It is nothing to them that pass
by, Lam. i. 12. Nay, Secondly, Those that are enemies to Christ will rejoice
because they hope they have conquered him, and ruined his interest. When
the chief priests had Christ upon the cross, we may suppose they made merry
over him, as those that dwell on earth over the slain witnesses, Rev. xi.
10. Let it be no surprise to us if we see others triumphing, when we are
trembling for the ark.
[3.] The return of joy to them in due time: But your sorrow shall be
turned into joy. As the joy of the hypocrite, so the sorrow of the true
Christian, is but for a moment. The disciples were glad when they saw the
Lord. His resurrection was life from the dead to them, and their sorrow
for Christ's sufferings was turned into a joy of such a nature as could
not be damped and embittered by any sufferings of their own. They were
sorrowful, and yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. vi. 10), had sorrowful lives
and yet joyful hearts.
(2.) It is applicable to all the faithful followers of the Lamb, and
describes the common case of Christians.
[1.] Their condition and disposition are both mournful; sorrows are
their lot, and seriousness is their temper: those that are acquainted with
Christ must, as he was, be acquainted with grief; they weep and lament
for that which others make light of, their own sins, and the sins of those
about them; they mourn with sufferers that mourn, and mourn for sinners
that mourn not for themselves.
[2.] The world, at the same time, goes away with all the mirth; they
laugh now, and spend their days so jovially that one would think they neither
knew sorrow nor feared it. Carnal mirth and pleasures are surely none of
the best things, for then the worst men would not have so large a share
of them, and the favourites of heaven be such strangers to them.
[3.] Spiritual mourning will shortly be turned into eternal rejoicing.
Gladness is sown for the upright in heart, that sow tears, and without
doubt they will shortly reap in joy. Their sorrow will not only be followed
with joy, but turned into it; for the most precious comforts take rise
from pious griefs. Thus he illustrates by a similitude taken from a woman
in travail, to whose sorrows he compares those of his disciples, for their
encouragement; for it is the will of Christ that his people should be a
First, Here is the similitude or parable itself (v. 21): A woman, we
know, when she is in travail, hath sorrow, she is in exquisite pain, because
her hour is come, the hour which nature and providence have fixed, which
she has expected, and cannot escape; but as soon as she is delivered of
the child, provided she be safely delivered, and the child be, though a
Jabez (1 Chron. iv. 9), yet not a Benoni (Gen. xxxv. 18), then she remembers
no more the anguish, her groans and complaints are over, and the after--pains
are more easily borne, for joy that a man is born into the world, anthropos,
one of the human race, a child, be it son or daughter, for the word signifies
a. The fruit of the curse, in the sorrow and pain of a woman in travail,
according to the sentence (Gen. iii. 16), In sorrow shalt thou bring forth.
These pains are extreme, the greatest griefs and pains are compared to
them (Ps. xlviii. 6; Isa. xiii. 3; Jer. iv. 31; vi. 24), and they are inevitable,
1 Thess. v. 3. See what this world is; all its roses are surrounded with
thorns, all the children of men are upon this account foolish children,
that they are the heaviness of her that bore them from the very first.
This comes of sin.
b. The fruit of the blessing, in the joy there is for a child born into
the world. If God had not preserved the blessing in force after the fall,
Be fruitful and multiply, parents could never have looked upon their children
with any comfort; but what is the fruit of a blessing is matter of joy;
the birth of a living child is, (a.) The parents' joy; it makes them very
glad, Jer. xx. 15. Though children are certain cares, uncertain comforts,
and often prove the greatest crosses, yet it is natural to us to rejoice
at their birth. Could we be sure that our children, like John, would be
filled with the Holy Ghost, we might, indeed, like his parents, have joy
and gladness in their birth, Luke i. 14, 15. But when we consider, not
only that they are born in sin, but, as it is expressed, that they are
born into the world, a world of snares and a vale of tears, we shall see
reason to rejoice with trembling, lest it should prove better for them
that they had never been born. (b.) It is such joy as makes the anguish
not to be remembered, or remembered as waters that pass away, Job xi. 16.
Hæc olim meminisse juvabit. Gen. xli. 51. Now this is very proper
to set forth, [a.] The sorrows of Christ's disciples in this world; they
are like travailing pains, sure and sharp, but not to last long, and in
order to a joyful product; they are in pain to be delivered, as the church
is described (Rev. xii. 2), and the whole creation, Rom. viii. 22. And,
[b.] Their joys after these sorrows, which will wipe away all tears, for
the former things are passed away, Rev. xxi. 4. When they are born into
that blessed world, and reap the fruit of all their services and sorrows,
the toil and anguish of this world will be no more remembered, as Christ's
were not, when he saw of the travail of his soul abundantly to his satisfaction,
Isa. liii. 11.
Secondly, The application of the similitude (v. 22): "You now have sorrow,
and are likely to have more, but I will see you again, and you me, and
then all will be well."
a. Here again he tells them of their sorrow: "You now therefore have
sorrow; therefore, because I am leaving you," as is intimated in the antithesis,
I will see you again. Note, Christ's withdrawings are just cause of grief
to his disciples. If he hide his face, they cannot be troubled. When the
sun sets, the sun-flower will hang the head. And Christ takes notice of
these griefs, has a bottle for the tears, and a book for the sighs, of
all gracious mourners.
b. He, more largely than before, assures them of a return of joy, Ps.
xxx. 5, 11. He himself went through his own griefs, and bore ours, for
the joy that was set before him; and he would have us encourage ourselves
with the same prospect. Three things recommend the joy:-- (a.) The cause
of it: "I will see you again. I will make you a kind and friendly visit,
to enquire after you, and minister comfort to you." Note, [a.] Christ will
graciously return to those that wait for him, though for a small moment
he has seemed to forsake them, Isa. liv. 7. Men, when they are exalted,
will scarcely look upon their inferiors; but the exalted Jesus will visit
his disciples. They shall not only see him in his glory, but he will see
them in their meanness. [b.] Christ's returns are returns of joy to all
his disciples. When clouded evidences are cleared up and interrupted communion
is revived, then is the mouth filled with laughter. (b.) The cordiality
of it: Your heart shall rejoice. Divine consolation put gladness into the
heart. Joy in the heart is solid, and not flashy; it is secret, and that
which a stranger does not intermeddle with; it is sweet, and gives a good
man satisfaction in himself; it is sure, and not easily broken in upon.
Christ's disciples should heartily rejoice in his returns, sincerely and
greatly. (c.) The continuance of it: Your joy no man taketh from you. Men
will attempt to take their joy from them; they would if they could; but
they shall not prevail. Some understand it of the eternal joy of those
that are glorified; those that have entered into the joy of the Lord shall
go no more out. Our joys on earth we are liable to be robbed of by a thousand
accidents, but heavenly joys are everlasting. I rather understand it of
the spiritual joys of those that are sanctified, particularly the apostles'
joy in their apostleship. Thanks be to God, says Paul, in the name of the
rest, who always causes us to triumph, 2 Cor. ii. 14. A malicious world
would have taken it from them, they would have lost it; but, when they
took everything else from them, they could not take this; as sorrowful,
yet always rejoicing. They could not rob them of their joy, because they
could not separate them from the love of Christ, could not rob them of
their God, nor of their treasure in heaven.