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? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A litde while? we cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire 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? 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. 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. 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.
Already in this closing address of our Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples He had spoken to them of His coming again. He said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). But they seemed to have been as blind as a great many of our modern aposdes and preachers. They could not understand that He meant that He was going away literally and was coming back literally. He was going away in the body and He was coming back in a glorified body.
One would suppose that the Scripture teaching as to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is so plainly expressed that it would be impossible for any ordinary mind to misunderstand. And yet, what weird things people have made out of our Lord’s promise that He will come again! Some people think that He had in mind that great event that took place very shortly after He spoke these words— the coming of the Holy Spirit to build the church and carry on the work of God in this scene. But that is not a reasonable explanation of His words, because it was after the Holy Spirit came that all the New Testament was written, and all through its books the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is set forth as an event still in the future, a blessed hope for which believers are to wait and toward which they are to look.
And then again many people imagine that when the Lord spoke of His second coming that He meant when a believer comes to die, at the end of life, that in the hour of death the Lord will come for him in the guise of death. But that will not stand because as we turn page after page in the New Testament dealing with this subject, we find that death is going to be swallowed up in victory at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In another passage of Scripture we are told that “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). It is impossible that death and the second coming of Christ should be synonymous expressions, for death for the believer will be ended when the Lord comes again.
Then there are a great many other foolish ideas. I picked up a Sunday school quarterly the other day, and the writer of the lessons ridiculed the old-fashioned idea of the second coming of Christ. The writer undertook to show that the only second coming that the Bible teaches is His coming in the providential affairs of life, in the political and economic clouds, and by the Spirit to comfort and help in the hour of trial. “But as to His personal coming, it is a vain hope,” said this writer.
I am thankful we do not have to depend on those who edit the Sunday school lesson for our enlightenment. Jesus said, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” And here He speaks very definitely, of both His going away and His coming back. Verse 16 reads, “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.” That was all a settled thing so far as He was concerned. He was speaking of leaving this world by way of the cross and the ascension, and going back to the Father, and the interval was but “a little while.” So just as in a few days He would go to the Father, so in a few days more He would be back again!
“But,” you say, “countless years have come and gone since He went away.” Yes, but “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And we are told that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. So, really, according to the Lord’s reckoning, He has not been away two days yet, so shortly when that “little while” closes, He will come again.
Notice how frequently He speaks of the “little while.” In 7:33 Jesus said, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me.” He was speaking here to His enemies, those who were seeking His destruction. He was going to the cross to die, but going voluntarily, and then someday He was going to the throne. “Ye shall seek me, but ye shall not find me” (v. 34). He explains what He means by that. He says, “[If ye] die in your sins: whither I go, you cannot come” (8:21). He was going back to the Father, and only those can join Him who know Him as Savior and Lord here on earth.
Then in the twelfth chapter of this same gospel once more He speaks of the “little while.” The people said, “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them” (12:34-36). That is, as long as He was in the world, He was the light of the world, and God was speaking directly through Him. “A little while is the light with you,” and then He was to go to the Father.
And in 13:33 He says, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.” He was speaking to His own beloved disciples who had trusted Him and accepted Him as their promised Redeemer. “Yet a little while I am with you… And as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.” Oh, but He means something different when He speaks thus to them. The Jews who rejected Him will be unable to find Him. But He says to His own, “I am going back to the glory. You will not find Me here on earth, but I will come and get you, and take you to be with Me. “Yet a little while I am with you.”
The fourteenth chapter and nineteenth verse reads, “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” What does He mean by this? Well in the time of His absence He has gone unto the far country where He is seated on the Father’s throne waiting to receive for Himself the kingdom. The world knows nothing of Him, but His own have the eyes of faith. They are able to look into the heavens and say with Paul, “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9).
We love to look up and behold Him there,
The Lamb for His chosen slain;
And soon shall His saints all His glories share,
With their King and their Lord shall reign.
He is absent actually as to the body, but we behold Him by faith. We know He sits exalted at God’s right hand, and we are waiting for Him to come back again in person as He went away.
And so this sixteenth chapter connects with all that has gone before. “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.”
It has been suggested by some that it might be rendered, “I go back to my Father,” implying that He was the One who came from the Father. He left His Father’s bosom and came down in order to be our Savior, and then, having finished our redemption, returned to His Father. Even His disciples did not understand and did not like to ask. It suggests something of the reverent awe in which they held Him. There was something about Him that stirred their hearts to the deepest depths. They knew that His heart was saddened as He said it, and they hesitated to ask, but they might as well have done so, for He knew their very thoughts.
But as they walked along, they turned one to the other, and said, “What does it mean?” “What is this that he saith, A little while?… and, [what does he mean by saying], Because I go to my Father?” (v. 17). They were still looking for Him to raise up a standard here on earth, to call all who were faithful to God to follow Him and lead a revolt against the Roman power and set up the kingdom of Israel, long predicted by the prophets here in this world. “When Messiah comes He is going to abide forever. What does He mean?”
And He heard them just as though they had asked Him, and said to them, “Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said… 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” (vv. 19-20).
He knew that they loved Him. He knew that with all their infirmity, their hearts were really true to Him. And He realized that His leaving them was going to disturb them greatly. The entire program they supposed would be thrown out of joint. They did not understand that God was working everything according to His own will.
So He knew that they would weep. This has been true ever since, for He told them, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (v. 33). And while He is absent we cannot expect fullness of joy down here. Think how God’s people are suffering in Europe, Great Britain, and China—real Christians who, if they had their way, would not have seen the nations plunged into war, for they love the Prince of Peace. They love His gospel of peace and would have been willing to do anything to keep the nations from bloody conflict. But they have to suffer with the rest. Oh, how many Christian homes have been broken up! How many Christian wives and children as well as men in arms have had to suffer, and many to die, because of the terrible conditions prevailing. And all of this just because those to whom He came did not know the time of their visitation. When He came, who alone could have brought in peace and blessing, they rejected Him and said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). So they have had to suffer and endure pain and agony and the horrors of warfare, and bitter persecution. No one has suffered more than His own people.
There is one sense in which His absence gladdens the heart of the world. The world does not want Him. Suppose He came back today. He would interfere with all the plans of the world. “Ye shall sorrow,” He says, “but the world shall rejoice.” The world rejoices now in the day of His absence. The world’s sorrow in fullness will be when He returns again, taking vengeance on them that know not God. But in the meantime, God’s plans are working out.
He uses the picture of an expectant mother in the twenty-first verse: “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.” And so the church is going through its travail pains now. But oh, the joy when at last the new age comes in with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, when sin and righteousness and malice will be forever put down, and when Jesus will have all authority in this scene, and shall reign in righteousness, speaking peace to all people.
In the meantime, while He is away, this blessed hope is put before us in many different aspects in order that He may reveal to us His grace. We read in the epistle to the Hebrews, “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (10:37). The hope of His coming is put before us as an incentive to purity of life. We are told in 1 John, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (3:3). Are you waiting for the coming of the Lord? You are a Christian. You are trusting Him as your Savior. Well, then, are you allowing anything in your life that is unclean, anything that is impure, anything that is unholy? Oh, if so, then the hope of the coming of the Lord has never yet really gripped your soul. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” If I am living day by day in expectation of His return, I will see to it that I put out of my life everything that is contrary to His will. Just imagine if I am allowing myself in something impure and Jesus should come at that very moment, how ashamed I would be at His coming. No, if the coming of the Lord is to be truly a blessed hope, I will not want to tolerate anything that would be offensive to Him.
Then you notice the coming of the Lord is put before us as an incentive to service, because at His coming the rewards will be given out. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 we read, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” What does he mean? He says (and Paul is writing to some of his own converts), “I have given up everything on earth to preach Christ, and I have the privilege of winning souls to Him. Now at last, when He returns I am looking forward to meeting Him with all that great company that I have led to His feet.” Think what it will be for Paul! Think of the thousands who were saved through him when he was here. Think of the millions since then who have read the messages he left behind. Finally, think of him coming before the Lord Jesus Christ when He returns with these great throngs surrounding Him and saying to His Father, “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me” (Isa. 8:18). It will be then that Paul will get his reward.
And so the hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ should stir us up to devoted service. He says, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). Everything that is really done for Him will bring a reward in that day. Everything that is a result of that old corrupt nature will go for nothing in that day, and will cause us to suffer loss rather than to obtain a reward. I listened to a Christian berating another believer some little time ago, and oh, the unkind things he said. I inquired, “Would you like the Lord Jesus to come and find you talking so of your brother?” “Oh,” he answered, “it is all true.” “Well,” I said, “love covers a multitude of sins. Now tell me, which nature is it that is working now? We have the divine nature if we are born again. Is that what leads you to speak unkindly of your brother?” Oh, the coming of the Lord should be that which tests all our behavior. Is it such that He would approve of when He returns for us?
In this same epistle to the Thessalonians you will find that the apostle is urging upon the Christians the importance of holiness. He links it with the coming of the Lord. In verses 12 and 13 we read, “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” I don’t wonder that Satan likes to becloud this truth of the second coming, because it means so much to God’s people from a practical standpoint. If it really grips my soul, I will want to increase and abound in love to the brethren. I will want to walk in holiness of life. And, oh, what a comfort in the hour of bereavement, is the coming of the Lord. When our dear ones in Christ are taken away from us,
When their words of love and cheer,
Fall no longer on our ear,
Hush, be every murmur dumb,
It is only till He come!
Then will come the glad reunion when we all meet in His presence.
And so the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians connects intimately with the sixteenth chapter of John. “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Note, he does not say we are not to sorrow. He does not call upon us to be hard and cold and stoical. He doesn’t forbid our tears. Tears often ease the heart. He has bidden His people to weep with those who weep. WTien He was here, He Himself wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus. He does not tell us we are not to grieve for loved ones taken from us, but He does say we are not to sorrow as others who have no hope. Oh, we have a blessed and wonderful hope! We know we shall meet them again. So He tells us there will be the voice, the shout, the trump, and we shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. I love that word, “together,” in that connection. You see, there will be wonderful recognition. We were heirs together of the grace of life. We had fellowship together here on earth. We were laborers together in the things of God. We shall be caught up together when Jesus comes.
Down Life’s dark vale we wander,
Till Jesus comes.
We watch and wait and wonder
Till Jesus comes.
All joy! His loved ones bringing,
When Jesus comes.
All praise through heaven ringing,
When Jesus comes.
All beauty bright and vernal,
When Jesus comes.
All glory grand, eternal,
When Jesus comes!
He’ll know the way was dreary,
When Jesus comes.
He’ll know the feet grew weary,
When Jesus comes.
He’ll know what griefs oppressed us,
When Jesus comes.
Oh, how His arms will rest us,
When Jesus comes.
Oh, let my lamp be burning,
When Jesus comes.
For Him, my soul be yearning,
When Jesus comes.
And so we turn now to the last verse of the section we are considering. “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” (John 16:22). It must be so long as we are in a world filled with pain and suffering, that we must suffer with the groaning creation. But soon we shall behold Him when He returns to take us home. Then our joy will be complete.
So the “little while” will soon be past, and we shall see Him face to face. Meantime, be it ours to work and labor for Him until He comes.