We are continuing our study of the Last Discourse of Yeshua, this is a long and important passage. This is our Lord's final teaching to His disciples. This Discourse has three large divisions. The first division, John 13:31‑14:31 dealt with Yeshua's departure and the disciples' future. The second main division, John 15 and 16 focused on the disciples' life after Yeshua's departure. This is the section that we are looking at now. The final main section, John 17, contains Yeshua's high priestly prayer.
In the section we are looking at now Yeshua was preparing His disciples for life without His bodily presence. In our text for today Yeshua abruptly turns from the subject of the role of the Paraclete in guiding the disciples into all truth back to His impending departure in verse 16. In our text, Yeshua is preparing the disciples for the overwhelming sorrow that they would experience in the next few hours as they watched Him be arrested, mocked, scourged, and crucified. Their world was about to come crashing down around them:
"A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me." John 16:16 ESV
He has said virtually the same thing to them many times, in chapter 7, He said, "I will be with you a little longer." In chapter 12, "The light is among you for a little while longer." In chapter 13, "Yet a little while I am with you." And now He says, "A little while, and you will see me no longer." His time with them was growing to a close.
The big question here among scholars is, Which departure and return are in view? As you can imagine, there are multiple views on this. Let me give you the three main ones. One view is that Yeshua was referring first to His imminent departure in death, and secondly to His return to the disciples shortly after His resurrection. This would make the first "little while" only a few hours in duration, and the second "little while" would be only a few days.
Another view is that He is talking about His ascension and Second Coming. This would make the first "little while" about forty days in duration, and the second "little while" would be forty years in duration referring to the Lord's return at the end of the age.
Another view is that Yeshua was using "see" in two different ways in this verse. In the first case, He meant "see" in the physical sense, and in the second, He meant "see" in the spiritual sense. So He would be saying, "I'm going to leave, talking about His death. But a little while after that, the Day of Pentecost, I'm coming back in the presence of the Spirit."
So does the first "little while" mark the time until Yeshua's death, or is it referring to His ascension? Does the second "little while" mark the time of Yeshua's resurrection, the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost, or the Parousia? Which view makes the most sense? Death and resurrection? Ascension and Second Coming? Or death and arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost?
Let me tell you how I see this and then try to explain why. I see Yeshua referring to His imminent departure in death and to His return to the disciples shortly after His resurrection. But I also see view two, I think Yeshua is talking about His Ascension and Second Coming. I think that in a typical way for Lazarus this verse has a double meaning. So in a "little while," and you will no longer see me points to Yeshua's death, and also to His departure to heaven after the post‑resurrection appearances, His ascension. The following, "and again a little while, and you will see me," points to the Resurrection and also to the Second Coming. So there is a double meaning here and, hopefully by the time we are finished this morning you will see that.
Let me first remind you of a couple of Lazarus' double meanings. Speaking of Lazarus' death Yeshua says:
But when Yeshua heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." John 11:4 ESV
So Yeshua is saying that Lazarus' death, "It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it"–there is a double meaning here concerning death and glorification. Yeshua will be glorified by the miracle of resurrecting Lazarus (John 11:4), but the miracle will enrage the Jewish authorities to the point that it will bring about Yeshua's own death (John 11:46‑54) through which He will be glorified. So this miracle not only displayed Yeshua's identity as God's Son, but it also led to His death–which was the ultimate manifestation of His identity and glory.
Let's look at another double meaning:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John 12:32 ESV
This verb hupsoo (lifted up) usually means to exalt someone (Acts 2:33), and as usual Lazarus wants us to see a double meaning, it can refer to either figurative exaltation or to literal hoisting of a body on a tree or cross–here it is both. Yeshua's being lifted up on the cross resulted in His being exalted as the Savior of the world.
So in typical fashion, I see Yeshua here referring to His imminent departure in death and to His return to the disciples shortly after His resurrection, and I see Yeshua talking about His Ascension and Second Coming. I'll develop this in a minute.
Notice the disciples response to what Yeshua has said:
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'?" John 16:17 ESV
This is the first time since chapter 14, verse 22, that we see the disciples talking. What do you get from what they say? What we see here is they are clueless. They don't have a clue as to what Yeshua means. He has been talking to them about His death for over a year now. We see this all the way back when they were in Galilee in Mark 9:
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. Mark 9:30-32 ESV
They didn't understand, but they didn't ask. They didn't want to hear it. It did not fit their idea of Messiah. The disciples had no category to allow them to make sense of a Messiah who would die and rise from the dead. They believed Messiah would establish His kingdom, reign in Jerusalem, destroy their enemies, bring salvation to Israel, and set up the kingdom. This Messianic expectation was part of their culture, they grew up with it. We see this from what the disciples say in:
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Luke 24:21 ESV
They thought that the Messiah would come and establish His reign over Israel, bringing in times of peace and blessing, as prophesied in the Tanakh.
The disciples had forsaken everything to follow Yeshua in the hopes that He was this promised Messiah. So they were confused over what Yeshua was telling them, but they would be more deeply confused in the next few hours as they watched their Lord suffer the most shameful, painful death imaginable. In spite of Yeshua's repeatedly telling them that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, the disciples didn't get it.
So they were saying, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about." John 16:18 ESV
Here Lazarus specifically identifies "a little while" as the phrase the disciples do not understand. They still did not understand what He meant by saying He was leaving.
Yeshua 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'? John 16:19 ESV
Yeshua re‑phrases their question in His words, emphasizing a little while. The questions set the stage for verse 20:
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. John 16:20 ESV
This double use of "truly" emphasizes that Yeshua is about to reveal a solemn truth to the disciples. Yeshua is the only one who ever started a sentence with this term. It seems to have the connotation of "this is an important and trustworthy statement, listen closely."
"You will weep and lament"–the words "weep and lament" were the customary terms for loud wailing and lamenting. The Palestinian culture of Yeshua's time expected a public display of grief at the death of a loved one. Professionals were hired to wail and lament loudly outside the house as the body was prepared. They then wailed through town as the body was taken out to be buried.
The term "weep" is frequently used for the mourning that occurs due to the death of someone (see Mark 5:39; Luke 7:13; 8:52; John 11:31, 33). It is used in Mark 16:10 for the disciples, who wept over the death of our Lord. So Yeshua is telling His disciples that they will momentarily experience great sorrow during Yeshua's trial, scourging, and crucifixion.
"But the world will rejoice"–while the disciples grieve, the world will rejoice. Lazarus obviously has the Jewish leaders who are plotting Yeshua's death in mind as "the world." Yeshua had portrayed these religious leaders earlier as being opposed to His views (12:31, 36). The religious leaders represent everything that Yeshua is opposed to.
"But your sorrow will turn into joy"–their sorrow will turn to joy when they all see Him after His Resurrection.
And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" Luke 24:40-41 NASB
And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, Luke 24:52 NASB
Notice the expression, "But your sorrow will turn into joy," in the original text it is literally "your sorrow shall become joy" so that the very thing that causes the sorrow is the same thing, the identical thing, that causes the joy. In other words, it is not so much that sorrow is replaced by joy, but the sorrow itself becomes joy.
It is Christ's death which is going to bring sorry to the disciples. But it is the death in which they will ultimately rejoice because they will come to see that the death, which caused them sorrow on the physical natural level is on the spiritual level the foundation of their deliverance from guilt and condemnation of sin, and the foundation of their right to eternal life. So the very thing over which they are sorrowful becomes the thing over which they are happy and joyous.
Everything about the Christian faith, everything, rests on the bodily Resurrection of Yeshua from the dead. As Paul states, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:17)
Now you may be thinking this all sounds like Yeshua is talking about His death and Resurrection. How do you get a double meaning out of this? How do you see this also as applying to the Ascension and Second Coming? I'll show you in the next verse:
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. John 16:21 ESV
There, do you see a double meaning? Not yet? Well verses 21, 22, and 23 are loaded with references to the end of the Jewish age and the consummation of the Kingdom of God in AD 70, which show us that there is a double meaning here.
"When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow "–how has the symbolic imagery of a woman suffering in childbirth been used in the Tanakh? The travail of a woman in childbirth is the traditional biblical metaphor for the sufferings of the Covenant people. which will proceed the new, Messianic Age. The Jews believed that just before the manifestation of the Messianic Kingdom Israel would go through a period of intense suffering.
William Barclay says, "Time was divided by the Jews into two great periods–this present age, and the age to come. The present age is wholly bad and beyond all hope of human reformation. It can be mended only by the direct intervention of God. When God does intervene the golden age, the age to come, will arrive. But in between the two ages there will come the Day of the Lord, which will be a time of terrible and fearful upheaval, like the birth‑pangs of a new age."
In Micah 4 we are told:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, Micah 4:1 ESV
Micah prophecies that God's kingdom will be established in the last days. Now drop down to verse 9:
Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies. Micah 4:9-10 ESV
The idea of a woman in labor is used for the suffering that precedes the re-gathering the scattered remnant, and of coming of the Lord in His kingdom. This is the imagery that Yeshua uses in our text in John 16.
Isaiah 26:16-21 is particularly important: it combines the figure of the woman in childbirth, the words "a little while" and the promise of Resurrection and joy:
O LORD, in distress they sought you; they poured out a whispered prayer when your discipline was upon them. Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O LORD; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. Isaiah 26:16-20 ESV
Here we see that "a little while" (Isa 26:20) appears in the context of figurative childbirth (Isa 26:17-18) and the raising of the dead (Isa 26:19), which brings joy, just as we see in our text (Jn 16:21). The context is one in which ultimate deliverance is promised to the people of Judah though for the present they are sorely pressed by peril and adversity. Yeshua had to have this text in mind as He spoke to His disciples. So Yeshua is connecting "a little while" with birth pangs and the Resurrection and consummation of the kingdom that took place in AD 70, bringing great joy.
Yeshua also used this same metaphor in Matthew 24:
All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Matthew 24:8 ESV
Yeshua is prophesying the persecution the Church will suffer, culminating in the end of the age and His Second Advent. He is speaking of the "end of the age" for the Jews who rejected Him and the end of the Old Covenant order, which will result in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the birth of the new Israel from the "faithful remnant" of the old Israel that will establish the universal New Covenant Church.
In the establishment of the Old Covenant with Moses at Mt. Sinai, God gave the Old Covenant people 40 years to come fully into the covenant before they took possession of the Promised Land. In Scripture, 40 is the number of testing as well as a number symbolizing consecration. Just as the first Israel had a 40 year journey before fully establishing the Old Covenant Church in their home land, the New Israel, the New Covenant people, will also experience a 40 year period from Christ's resurrection in AD 30 to the complete destruction of the Old Covenant order in AD 70.
In AD 70 the Romans, as the instrument of God's redemptive judgment against the rejection of the Messiah, will destroy the old Temple in Jerusalem in fulfillment of Yeshua's prophecy in Matthew 24:1‑36. With the coming of the Messiah, the Temple no longer had any meaning or significance in liturgical worship: only the blood of Yeshua, not the blood of animals, can be the true sacrifice for sins!
So in our text the secondary meaning refers to the Lord's Ascension and Second Coming. This would make the first "little while" about forty days in duration, referring to the Lord's Ascension, and the second "little while" would be forty years in duration referring to the Lord's return at the end of the age:
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 16:22 ESV
This verse is an allusion to Isaiah 66:14 in the LXX:
And ye shall see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall thrive like grass: and the hand of the Lord shall be known to them that fear him, and he shall threaten the disobedient. Isaiah 66:14 Brenton
"And your hearts will rejoice"–kai char_setai hym_kardia, are the exact same words that are found in Isaiah 66:14, in the context of promises of the consummation.
"Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Isaiah 66:7 ESV
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; Isaiah 66:10 ESV
In the context of Isaiah 66 these passages refer to the consummation of the kingdom of God in AD 70.
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. John 16:23 ESV
"In that day"–this is another Hebraic idiomatic phrase (like childbirth John 16:21), which is commonly associated with the coming of the New Age (e.g. Mk. 13:11, 17, 19 par.; 14:25; Acts 2:18; 2 Tim. 1:12, 18; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 9:15).
So, hopefully, you can see all the allusions in these verses to the Resurrection and the end of the age. Which would give us a double meaning of these verses.
Now I want to return to verse 16 and ask the same question that the disciples asked:
So they were saying, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about." John 16:18 ESV
So what does Yeshua mean by "a little while"? Can this be used of the Second Coming?
Talking about this passage in John 16, John MacArthur writes,
"Now there's a whole case made for the fact that our Lord is saying, 'You're going to see Me when I come back in glory.' But that's not really 'a little while.' When He says, 'A little while and you won't see Me,' He means 'a little while.' But if He says, 'A little while and you will see Me,' then that 'little while' has to be very different than the first one. That makes it very strange, and they actually aren't going to be around at the second coming."
Do you see what he is saying? He says that the second "little while" has to be very different from the first "little while" because to him the second "little while," the Second Coming hasn't happened yet. Notice what he says about our Lord's disciples, "They actually aren't going to be around at the Second Coming." That is a flat contradiction of Scripture:
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:28 ESV
So Yeshua said some of His disciples would still be alive when He returned in the second advent. MacArthur says they won't be alive at the Second Coming, "they actually aren't going to be around at the Second Coming." So who's right? I'm going with Yeshua.
The Greek word for "a little while" is mikros, it is also found in:
For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; Hebrews 10:37 ESV
"Yet a little while"–the Greek is very expressive and emphatic. The author used a word which signifies "a little while," and then for further emphasis added a particle meaning "very," and this he still further intensified by repeating it; thus literally rendered, this clause reads: "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come."
The idea which the author wishes to convey is evidently that the time of their deliverance from their trials was not far remote. The reference is undoubtedly to the Second Coming of Christ. If this is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ, and if He has not yet come, as most of the Church believes, then what did this mean to the people to whom it was written? Nothing! Nothing at all!
What does it mean to us? Can we understand, "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come" to mean over 2, 000 years? If the Lord did not return in the first century, this would have meant nothing to the Hebrews. To tell you the truth it would have been deceptive to them.
Yahweh inspired the author of Hebrews to write at around AD 65 to the first century saints, "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come." How could he have made it clearer that the Second Coming of Christ would happen SOON to them?
Notice what Yahweh says about those who speak His Word:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'– when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:18-22 ESV
Most Christians would say that the Lord has not yet returned, making the writer of Hebrews a false prophet. But the problem is that it wasn't just the writer of Hebrews who said that Yeshua was to return in the first century, Yeshua Himself taught this.
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 ESV
If you look at the way Yeshua used the word "generation," I think it will be abundantly clear that it always refers to His contemporaries, the Jewish people of His own period. Yeshua here, very plainly and very clearly, tells HIS DISCIPLES that ALL of the things He had mentioned would come to pass in THEIR GENERATION. This includes the Gospel being preached in all the world, the abomination of desolation, the great tribulation, and the Coming of the Son of man. This is so clear that it greatly troubles those who hold to a Futuristic eschatology.
Yeshua uses the near demonstrative "this" generation. Every time "this" is used in the New Testament it always refers to something that is near in terms of time or distance.
So Yeshua speaking to His disciples says that their generation would see the Second Coming. Was Yeshua wrong? If He was, then according to Deuteronomy, He was a false prophet. If Yeshua was a false prophet, then we are all dead in our sins and separated from Yahweh forever. If Yahweh does not keep the WHEN part of His promises, He has not kept His promise! The inspiration of the Scriptures demands complete fulfillment of every aspect of God's promises. But if Yeshua is Lord, then what He said was true– He returned in the Second Coming during that generation.
In Numbers 24, Balaam, the prophet, made a prediction of Christ's coming:
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Numbers 24:17 ESV
This is a prophecy of Christ's coming and he says, "It was NOT NEAR," it wasn't going to happen in "a very little while." Why did he say this? Because Christ's coming was over 1400 years away, and 1400 years is a long time!
In many passage in the New Testament we are emphatically told that the Lord's coming was; near, soon, shortly, in that generation, in a little while, and the first century believers are urged to endure during the little time of trial that remained. It was only to be a very, very little while until Christ returned and destroyed their enemies, the Jews.
Most Christians would say that the Lord has not yet returned, making Yeshua and the writers of the New Testament false prophets. If you believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant Word of the Living God, then you must take the time statements at face value. A little while does not mean two thousand plus years. The Lord said that He was going to leave them in a little while and that He would return in a little while. To stretch the Second Coming beyond the first century is to deny the clear teaching of the Bible.