When my oldest daughter was six, my husband and I left the country for two weeks. Two weeks. It’s really not that long, but, from the perspective of my six-year-old, it seemed like an eternity. She was afraid to be left without us, she was sad because she was going to miss us, and she was worried about what it would be like with us gone.
Knowing phone calls would be difficult at best, I left her with several things to comfort her when she was sad and strengthen her when she was afraid—a photo of us, some notes to read, and the reminder we would be praying for her. I also tried to reassure her by telling her, “We’ll be back before you know it.” After all, we were only going to be gone a little while.
A little while. The phrase is used seven times in John 16. Jesus, preparing his disciples for his death, said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16). At the thought of Jesus leaving, the eleven disciples were like my daughter: they were afraid, sad, and worried. Not only did Jesus reassure them with the certainty they would see him again, he also promised them he would leave them three things: his Spirit, his joy, and his peace.
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
The thought of Jesus’s departure saddened the disciples (John 16:6). But Jesus quickly told them he wasn’t leaving them alone, he was going to send them the Comforter (KJV) or the Helper (ESV). And it was going to be so good when the Holy Spirit came that Jesus was able to say it would actually be to their advantage for him to leave (John 16:7). These men were scared, sad, and confused. How could it possibly be better if Jesus were gone?
It was better because when the Holy Spirit came he opened their eyes, gave them understanding, and led them in truth (John 16:13). He would be God dwelling in them rather than God dwelling next to them! It was the Holy Spirit who would carry forth the ministry of salvation by convicting people, transforming them, and bringing glory to Jesus. And it was better because when Jesus ascended into heaven, he became the firstfruits of their own resurrection—and ours—guaranteeing eternal life with the Father for all who put their faith in him. It was better by far.
However, they didn’t know any of this yet. From their perspective, Jesus’s words didn’t make any sense. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s from their perspective: limited, finite, and myopic. They’d forgotten what the Lord had told Israel when he said, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God would use the very thing that caused them such great sorrow to accomplish his great plan of redemption.
We have limited perspectives, too. We struggle to see how the Lord’s ways are better than ours, or how the thing causing us sorrow could possibly be part of God’s plan. Oh sister, these are the moments we need to drag ourselves to the promises of God and remember that his perspective, his ways, and his plans are infinitely higher and better than ours.
The Promise of Sure Joy
The disciples didn’t yet understand why Jesus’s death and resurrection were good things, yet Jesus confidently tells these eleven men their deep sorrow would be changed to a much greater joy—a joy no one would be able to take away from them (v. 22). From Jesus’s eternal perspective, their temporary sorrow would be replaced by an irreplaceable, unending, deep, and abiding joy. Why? Because, in just a little while, they would see Jesus again!
There is an immediate fulfillment to that promise when, after three days, Jesus was raised from the dead. He spent 40 days walking, talking, and eating with his disciples. What joy they must have felt. But the ultimate and final fulfillment will be so much greater. Those eleven men, and all who are in Christ, will be in the presence of the risen Lord for eternity; we will see him face to face; and we will dwell with God forever. What unending joy will be ours!
The Promise of Perfect Peace
As we wait for that great and glorious day, the day our fears will be forever silenced and our sorrows turned into eternal joy, we find yet another comfort as Jesus ends his time of instruction to his disciples with the promise of peace: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (v. 33).
During my two weeks of international travel, if I could have given my daughter anything, it would have been peace. Peace would have steadied and comforted her. Peace would have indicated she trusted us and believed we would be back. Of course, I am not powerful enough to give anyone peace because I am not powerful enough to guarantee a promised outcome. But Jesus is.
The peace Jesus leaves for his disciples—and for us—is peace anchored in the surety of his victorious return. It steadies us when we are afraid and comforts us when we are grieved. The peace of Christ surpasses all understanding and protects both our fear-filled hearts and our anxious minds (Philippians 4:7). This peace is not found in us, our perceived strength, our courage, or our power. It is found only as we believe Christ has truly overcome the world and is most certainly coming back to us in victory.
His Promise is Sure
As daughters of Christ, we are waiting for his return. It can feel like he’s been gone forever, like the waiting may never end. The moments of our days, and the number of our days, as they stretch into the future, can seem full of troubles, sorrows, and fear. But take heart: his promise is sure; he’s coming back! It may feel like an eternity from our perspective, but once he returns, I’m certain we’ll see that it really was only a little while.
About the Author:
Courtney Doctor is an author, Bible teacher, frequent conference and retreat speaker, and periodic blogger. She received an MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2013 and is the author of From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story (2016). Her greatest desire in all of this is to be able to faithfully study, apply, and teach the word of God. She has a love for education and currently serves on the advisory board for Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA. God has blessed Courtney and her husband, Craig, with four wonderful children, two amazing daughters-in-law, and their first grandson, Bo!