“I have good news and bad news — which do you want first?” Has anyone ever asked you that question? I think most people would want the bad news first (to get it out of the way) and then hear the good news last (to end on a positive note). That is the order Jesus chose in this chapter.
First the bad news (v.1-4): Jesus assured His disciples that they would face persecution and even martyrdom. And they did: James the son of Zebedee was beheaded by Herod Agrippa; Matthew was executed with a battle-ax; James the Less was beaten to death with a fuller’s club at the age of 94; Thomas was thrust through with a spear in India; Peter, Philip, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot were all crucified; and John was exiled on the Isle of Patmos. What Jesus told them in this chapter, they would remember when the persecution came, and it would strengthen them.
Now the good news: Jesus assured His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to them (v.7-15). Jesus called Him “The Helper,” literally “one who is called alongside to give aid.” And what a help He would be! The Helper would take the gospel witness of the disciples and empower their words to bring about conviction of sin and to convince people of the truth. Additionally, the Helper would guide the disciples into truth, giving them moment-by-moment understanding and application of the teachings of Jesus for every situation.
Jesus kept saying that He was “going away” and that the disciples could not immediately go with Him. Because we have the advantage of a completed Scripture, you and I know that Jesus was going to the cross, to the grave, and (after the resurrection) up to glory. But the disciples did not the advantage we have. They were still confused about what Jesus was about to do, why He had to do it, and why they would not see Him “for a little while” (v.16-18).
Reading their thoughts, Jesus gave them two strong words of victory. First, Jesus was going to overcome death (v.20-24). They would see Him arrested, beaten, and executed — and that would produce sorrow. But that sorrow would turn to joy when He overcame death in the resurrection! Like a woman in labor whose pain is soon forgotten, erased by the joy of new life, the disciples would find lasting joy when Jesus came back to life.
Second, Jesus had overcome the world. The summary verse of the this chapter, verse 33, was not only a promise for Jesus’ original followers; it is a promise that is still in force for present-day disciples! The promise of verse 33 includes the trouble we will have (“in the world we will have tribulation”), the peace we can have (“in Me you might have peace”), and the victory we do have in Jesus (“I have overcome the world”).
Whatever you may face today, remember that you have a Savior who has already overcome your greatest enemy: death. And He already has victory over anything life can throw at you today!