These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Early in His ministry Jesus had taught His disciples, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matthew 5:11–12). Seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? How does a person rejoice in persecution?
Jesus, continuing His final, very personal conversation with His apostles, was preparing to send them into the world to spread the gospel. The disciples still hadn’t fully grasped the messianic mission, and Jesus was about to break more difficult news to them: as they carried out their mission, the world would hate them.
“But remember,” Jesus told them, “it hated Me first.” It is mind-boggling that people could hate Jesus Christ, a Man who did good and healed the oppressed (see Acts 10:38). But Jesus explained it: “[The world] hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil” (John 7:7). This is why Israel’s religious leaders, these men who were supposed to lead people to God, were filled with hatred for Him. From the outset of our relationship with Jesus, we need to recognize that people, even at times those who claim to follow God, will be hostile toward us because they are hostile toward Him.
Jesus reminded His disciples again that He would be leaving and that they would remain to bear witness of Him to the world. But, as Jesus had been, they would be opposed: “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2). Much of the persecution against believers throughout the centuries has been led by people who claimed to be believers themselves. For the disciples it was the Jewish leaders; later in history it was the established church. But ultimately, Jesus said, those who do these things “have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16:3). Those who committed atrocities in the Crusades or the Inquisition were not Christians. Christians love their enemies. They do good. They bless.
As the disciples began to grasp what Jesus was saying, their hearts, understandably, were filled with sorrow. But Jesus consoled them, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). The disciples couldn’t conceive of Jesus’ leaving being an advantage to them. But as long as Jesus was on earth, the Holy Spirit would not be poured out.
To Prepare Us
Jesus spoke these difficult things to His disciples to prepare them for the work of taking the message of salvation to the whole world. The Holy Spirit would help them in this task, just as He helps the church today, by convicting people of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Jesus had more to tell the disciples, but He knew that they could not bear it all. Only later, through the Holy Spirit’s teaching, would the disciples finally understand the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But Jesus told His disciples certain things so that when events took place, the disciples would remember Jesus’ words and be encouraged in their call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus gives us the same word He gave His disciples: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus Has Overcome the World
The world will be hostile toward God until Jesus comes again and establishes His kingdom. This is the environment in which we live and function. The news media bombards us daily with many reasons for concern, but we must not be overcome by anxiety and fear. In this world we will have tribulation, but Jesus has overcome the world.
Are you of good cheer? Are you filled with joy and strength in the work of the kingdom of God? You can be! Let go of discouraging thoughts. Set aside depressing news and pessimistic outlooks. The events happening around us only confirm that what Jesus told His followers is true. This should strengthen our faith and make us even bolder to take the gospel to the world.