4th Sunday of Easter, Jubilate: A Little While
May 3, 2020, 10:35 AM

John 16:16-22


A Little While

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Christ has now finished preaching on what will take place after his departure.  In the same night in which Christ was taken captive, his disciples were all scared and driven away from him.  They lost sight of him and abandoned all hope of seeing him again, because he was crucified and buried.  “But,” he says, “this will not be the end of me; in just a little while you will see me again.”  To them this is strange news and totally preposterous talk, for their minds cannot understand what it means not to see him in a little while and yet to see him in a little while.

Hence these words give rise to strange thoughts, and the disciples begin to question one another as to their meaning.  For the disciples cannot resign themselves to the fact that Christ will be crucified and taken from them in a little while.  Much less can they believe that after his suffering and death he will soon rise from the grave and death and be seen alive by them.  The word modicum, “a little while,” sounds too strange; and it is inconceivable to them that all this will happen so soon and so suddenly, that in three days he will be both dead and alive.

And even if Christ had expressed this as clearly as he had probably done before...they would have had just as little understanding of what he was saying; for both statements were beyond their mental grasp.  For this reason St. John devotes so many words to the subject that it probably seems to be futile and useless [prattle].  But he wants to point out that it is Christ’s purpose to impress upon them thoroughly the greatness of the miracle of his death and resurrection, and thus to give them a reason to ask about this.  Accordingly he discussed the matter in words not easy to grasp.  But even if his words had been clear and plain, the disciples would have had just as little understanding of what he was saying.  Christ wants to give the explanation of “a little while” by saying: “I go to the Father.”  This they understand even less, and they must admit that they do not know what he means.  

Thus his words remain obscure to them.  In consequence, they must meditate on them, wonder all the more, and ask, in order that after the resurrection their faith may recall what he has said and in this way become surer and stronger.

Now we have repeatedly heard what “going to the Father” means.  I suppose that this is not a common expression, one that people customarily use and understand.  But it is the Lord Christ’s way of speaking and that of his Christians.  Christ’s going or being sent from the Father means nothing else than that he, the true Son of God from eternity, became a true man and revealed himself on earth in human nature, essence, and form; that he let himself be seen heard, and touched; that he ate, drank, slept, worked, suffered, and died like any other human being.  On the other hand, his going to the Father means that through his resurrection from the dead it is declared that he sits at the right hand of God and reigns with him forever as eternal and omnipotent God.  For by his descent or coming from the Father he revealed and proved himself a true and natural man; but by his return to the Father he declared himself true and eternal God, who came from God the Father.  Thus both God and man remain in one Person, and as such he must be known and believed.

Christ’s coming from the Father to us and his going from us to the Father, his descending from heaven into death and hell, and his ascending and thereby taking complete possession of and filling heaven and earth - all this the dear apostles could not yet comprehend at that time.  Nor would we or anyone else understand it if the Holy Spirit had not come to reveal and clarify these words.  For these are dark words and, I suppose, will ever remain so.  Therefore it is still difficult to know Christ as he is and to take hold of him in his lowliness and in his ascension, in order that, as St. Paul says, everything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth may be accorded to him.

“A little while.”  This is a painful and bitter statement, and the hour is heavy with grief.  “For,” he says, “it will happen that you weep and lament.  Furthermore, you will find that the world will rejoice at this and, to make you suffer, will most bitterly abuse and revile you.  It will say: ‘Now look what you have done!  How well off you are with yor Christ, of whom you boast that he is the Savior and the Son of God!  How well you deserve this!  Why did you cling to the rebel and blasphemer?  If you want to know what Christ meant when he said that in a little while you would see Him no more, this is the explanation.’  Your experience in that hour will surely teach you this.  And even though you may not understand it now, I am telling you in advance, in order that you may think about it and recall it when the time comes.”

But at the same time Christ comforts them with the word modicum, a little while,” which implies that such sorrow and weeping will not endure forever or last too long.  For if this did not come to an end, neither they nor anyone else could bear it; it would lead to their destruction.  

[In regard to earthly things], there is no loss that cannot be made good, compensated for with something else, or at least forgotten.  And even if everything were lost, there must still be an end.  In the case of spiritual lamenting, however, it is no longer possible to see, or hope for, anything good; for when God is lost, all is lost…. An end to this weeping and lamenting is inconceivable and cannot be hoped for, because here Christ is lost, and God himself is gone.  According to our feeling and thought, therefore, this is not a light suffering or one that is short-lived.  No, it is an eternal and interminable.  Here one cannot hope or think that it will ever be possible to obtain Christ again, but one is convinced that now all is over and lost forever.


The dear Lord is well aware of this; he himself had to experience such indescribable sorrow.  Therefore he does not repeat these words “ a little while” in vain, even though his disciples do not understand them.  With them he counteracts this idea of lamenting and weeping and points out that this will not last forever, yes, not even for a long time, as it really seems, but just “a little while.”  “For,” Christ says, “I will not stay away from you, though I must leave you for a short time.  But I will return to see you, and to see you in such a way so that your hearts will be glad; and the time of mourning which seemed eternal and unbearable to you, will have been but a little and brief hour.  And your mourning will be replaced by joy, which will be eternal and which no one will take from you.  For after my departure from you and my death I will return, never to die again and never to be away from you again; but I will live eternally at the right hand of the Father, and I will be and reign in you.”

Christ also illustrates this with the example of a woman about to give birth.  For her the hour of endurance is now at hand.  No one can say whether she will recover or die.  All is anguish and anxiety, with no foreseeable end.  But everything is concentrated on the moment when the child is born into the world.  In that moment the anguish is immediately forgotten because of the happy sight of the newborn child.  

A change like this is also experienced here in this Christian life.  Sadness will not last forever;  it will turn into joy.  Otherwise our condition would be hopeless and helpless.  But Christ has helped by saying that we will not be subjected to the eternal spectacle of the devil with his horns and claws, but that our hearts will again see Christ and rejoice in him.  Thus here on earth Christians experience an ever-recurring alternation of  “a little while and again a little while.”  Now it is dark night; soon it is day again.


Therefore the lamenting does not have to last forever, even though it seems and feels that way when we are in it.  But even though we cannot see or determine the end, Christ has already done so.  He points out to us in advance that we must bear this suffering, no matter how bad and unpleasant the devil makes it.  Even though we do not see the end, we must wait for him who says: “I will put an end to it and will again comfort you and give you joy.”

Lord grant this to us all.  Amen.

An excerpt from Martin Luther’s Sermon on John 16:16-22.  Luther’s Works Vol. 24, pgs 374-382


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


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