What does John chapter 16 mean?At the end of chapter 15, Jesus was predicting both persecution (John 15:18–21) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 15:26–27). As He closes out His final teaching of the Last Supper (John 13:15), Christ both begins and ends with a call to endure hardships, knowing that in Him we are ultimately victorious.
Several times in this discourse, Jesus has pointed out that He's predicting hard times on purpose (John 13:19; 14:25). He intends to remind His followers that difficult times are no surprise—least of all to God. Knowing that a hardship was expected, and planned for, greatly lessens the fear we feel when the moment arrives. In the case of persecution against Christians, this can be severe. Jesus indicates that those who follow Him shouldn't be surprised if nonbelievers want to excommunicate them, or even execute them. In those moments, believers can take comfort in knowing Jesus is in control (John 16:1–4).
Christ then returns to the coming of the Holy Spirit. The idea that Jesus is leaving, naturally makes His followers sad and fearful. However, that selfishness is the focus of their reaction. They aren't considering Jesus' experience, or what it might mean; they're only worried about being left alone. Still, Jesus claims there is an advantage to Him leaving. So long as Christ is physically present, His followers will be tempted to see their faith as something external, or even political. The work of the Holy Spirit, however, will not only guide believers towards truth, it will establish a personal faith "within" all who have faith in Christ (John 16:5–15).
Modern believers have the benefit of hindsight. We read the description of Jesus' arrest (John 18:1–3) and crucifixion (John 19:18) knowing He will be resurrected (John 20:19). The disciples originally listening to Jesus didn't have that perspective. That three-day period (John 2:19) will fill them with unimaginable sorrow, fear, and doubt. Jesus compares this to the experience of a woman in childbirth. During labor, pain is almost the only thing a woman can process. However, once the baby is born, agony is no longer the center of her attention. She doesn't literally lose all memory of the pain, but the joy of a newborn vastly outweighs memories of labor. The same will be true for Jesus' followers: they will quickly move through extreme pain and into tremendous joy (John 16:16–24).
Parables are a useful teaching tool, since they summarize complex subjects in short, easily remembered blocks. This is the same reason teachers use songs and poems to instruct young children. Jesus has used parables to establish many of His teachings, but that leaves some understanding yet to be realized. It also makes it more clear which people are not interested in truth, at all (Matthew 13:13). Jesus has been speaking more plainly in this discourse, so the disciples seem to think that this is the moment of clarity Jesus has predicted (John 16:25–30).
Christ responds to that overconfidence much the same way He did when Peter declared his loyalty (John 13:36–38). The hard times to come will cause every one of these men to scatter and abandon Jesus (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). All the same, Jesus has confidence in His mission. He ends this long record of instruction with a powerful encouragement: that the world will bring suffering, but for those who believe in Christ (John 3:16–18; 14:6), He has already obtained ultimate victory (John 16:31–33).
This uplifting idea helps transition the gospel of John into a record of Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, in chapter 17.