The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 16:12-22] stands at a particularly significant spot within the four gospel accounts. In the three-year series, the fifth and sixth Sundays of Easter are taken from the part of the Gospel according to John called ‘The Farewell Discourse’. It works out well that since the discourse is basically three chapters long, each year looks at one particular chapter. This third year, we are looking at the last chapter, and Jesus is finishing things up with his disciples. This is his very last time to talk with all of them. And it seems he is getting ready to leave them.
But is this true? What starts within the middle of the text is a discussion among the disciples, and this is a discussion that continues to this day. There has been a long-standing debate regarding the meaning of the following words of Jesus: ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me (verse 16).’ What DOES this mean [A good Lutheran question!]?
In other words, how long is a ‘little while’? The phrase can have an incredibly wide variety of length. If you are interested, in the original text, those words are basically one word, literally a ‘micron’. And, in our modern context, with microscopes and the definition of a micron as something incredibly small, we might think that Jesus means an incredibly short amount of time. But that is not the context of the text. Jesus said earlier that the Holy Spirit will be with them ‘forever’ (14:16). When compared to that amount of time, a little while could seem like a LONG while.
The two types of answers typically given are, first of all, that the second ‘little while’ focuses on the literal sight of the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus; they will see him. The second choice involves the entire Christian Church, that his followers will see Jesus after Pentecost—through the writings of the Church, the New Testament—or even after his Second Coming, on the Last Day. In the words of the Concordia Self-Study Bible (and this is a note that was added by the Lutheran editors),
‘Few doubt that the first phrase refers to the interval before the crucifixion. But interpretations differ as to whether the second refers to the interval preceding the resurrection or the coming of the coming of the Spirit or the second coming of Christ. It seems that the language here best fits the resurrection; cf. v. 22 (p. 1638).’
The verse referred to at the end of that quote points to these words of Jesus: ‘I will see you again….’ Jesus not only says to his disciples that they will see him, but that HE will see THEM. When will this happen?
To ask ‘when’ is an historical question. It may be better to ask ‘how’ this happens. How do Jesus’ followers see him? The more important question is this one: how does Jesus see his followers?
Obviously, you could answer that question in this way: ‘With their eyes, of course!’ But there could be something more to this. Sometimes, within this gospel account, there is more to the text ‘than meets the eye’ [Sorry, I couldn’t resist.].
I am inclined to say that Jesus has all Christians in mind with this text. He has a much broader perspective, one that fits with this gospel account. In the words of the Concordia Self-Study Commentary (not to be confused with source of the above quote), the emphasis is on both: ‘Jesus sees in one perspective His resurrection and His return in glory at the end of days; the little while (16) of which He speaks is both the three days of His entombment and the time until His second coming (p. 100).’
Consider, first of all, that John, the Evangelist, probably lived longer than any of the other original twelve disciples (see John 20:23). Many people wanted to hear many details about Jesus; and they certainly would have liked to see him! And John also knew that Jesus wanted for those followers to know many things about himself. Both Jesus and all his followers wanted to be closely connected. But how does this happen?
Consider, also, that the four gospel accounts work together in a wonderful way; they work together in an effort to get an important message from throne of God. Now since it is not possible for people to come before the throne of God because of sin, the next option was for people to have received the message from the messenger who was sent out from before that throne. As that very special messenger came, he had the authority of the One who sent him. And that authority shows itself in four distinct ways (as the throne itself shows the authority of the king), and these different pictures of authority are in the four gospel accounts.
I would also like to point out that all of these four gospel accounts, in different ways, use a literary device that helps to bring to Jesus into the present. Instead of saying, ‘He did this,’ sometimes the text says, ‘He does this.’ Instead of saying, ‘He said this,’ sometimes the text says, ‘He says this.’ This is a way that Jesus comes into the present. This is a way that Jesus can see and be seen, even today. The words that are in the present tense are slightly different within each gospel account, and those words fit quite well with the type of authority that is pictured in that gospel account.
These texts are meant for all people, in whatever situation they are in. All people can see Jesus in these texts, and Jesus can see all people in these texts.
These four gospel accounts were not meant to be a history lesson; they work together to form a well-planned, well-constructed rescue attempt. The important thing to remember is that, as Jesus sees people and people see Jesus in the text, and he is giving what he promises in a very loving way, through words, simple words, important words, saving words.
We are connected to Jesus in a very loving way, and he uses the Holy Spirit to reach out to us. [More on this next week.]