John 16:33 concludes Jesus’ farewell teaching with plain and direct words that emphasize two great truths that his disciples would need to know. Jesus began this final passage with plain teaching about his own mission, and he concludes with two direct statements that are to serve as watchwords for his church. John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Are we surprised by the trials of this present life? We should not be, given Jesus’ clear warning. Here is a promise that is certain to come true if only we live for a little while: “in this world you will have tribulation.” The English word tribulation derives from a Latin word for the flail that was used to separate the wheat from the chaff. The world is the place of testing where our faith is revealed and made strong through trial. A.W. Pink writes, “While the Christian is left down here he suffers from the weakness and weariness of the body, from temporal losses and disappointments, from the severing of cherished ties, as well as from the sneers and taunts, the hatred and persecution of the world.”[i] “Men are designed to cut believers off from the earth,” notes Matthew Henry, “and God designs by affliction to make them ready for heaven; and so between both they shall have tribulation.”[ii] Though in Christ we have peace, in the world we have tribulation: we should, therefore, direct our hearts not to the things of the world but to the blessings of Christ, which alone convey peace.
The second great truth answers the need of the first. “Take heart,” he says; “I have overcome the world.” John’s Gospel was written to display the whole range of Jesus’ victory over sin, Satan, and death—all the powers of the world arrayed against Christians. It is probably best, however, to understand Jesus’ victory in the terms that he gave the disciples in this final passage.
Jesus said, “I came from the Father and have come into the world” (John 16:28). Jesus overcame the world as the incarnate God-man by obeying the will of the Father in his perfect and sinless life, and by overthrowing the powers of Satan and sin. Jesus added, “Now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (16:28). Jesus overcame the world in his death, because he offered his sinless life to pay the sin debt of all who trust in him, thus breaking the power of sin over us. Jesus then conquered death through his resurrection, and ascending to heaven he assumed “the throne of heaven from which he now rules the church and from which he will one day come again to put down all authority and power.”[iii] Because Christ has overcome the world, we now must only hold fast to him to gain our own victory, dividing his spoils by faith. John wrote in his first epistle in 1 John 5:4, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
Notice the two final points. Jesus said, “I have overcome the world” in the very shadow of Golgotha, where he would suffer God’s wrath at the hands of evil men. Jesus spoke of victory as he stepped forward to embrace his apparent defeat, knowing that through His sacrifice God would grant salvation to His people. You may rely on his victory when you feel yourself at the end and on the brink of failure. Our victory is Christ crucified for our sins and Christ living with power at God’s right hand. Take heart! Christ has overcome the world.
Finally, be encouraged that Jesus knew that his disciples would falter in their faith and foretold it in advance, yet did not forsake them. Jesus knows that you will have tribulations; your trials do not suggest that you have fallen outside of Christ’s will or plan for your life. Jesus knows in detail every cross that you bear, especially when you bear it for him. The Eleven would return to faith because Jesus would return to them from the dead. You, too, through faith alone, are kept safe in his hand; even your faith is secured by Christ’s unfailing grace (John 10:28). Take heart! Christ has overcome the world!
[i] Arthur W.Pink, Exposition of the gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 17.
[ii] Matthew henry, Commentary on the whole Bible, 6 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), 5:927.)
[iii] Boice, John 4:1244.