Friday

01 September 2017

‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ (v. 16)

Psalm: Psalm 71:15-28


Background

Opinion is divided on how these words of Jesus should be understood. They might refer to his approaching death, when the disciples will no longer see him, and to his resurrection when they (again) see him. But since he will again depart at the Ascension, this raises a question about the permanent joy he promises them (verse 22), if he must once more 'go away'.

Others suggest that we should understand all the events from his death to this ascension to be included in the use of the first "little while": it is once Jesus ascends that they no longer see him. The second "little while" would then refer to the second coming, connecting the reference to the pain of childbirth (verse 21) to the "birth pangs" of the new age in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 24:8). Elsewhere in John, "a little while" can refer to longer as well as shorter periods: both several months (John 7:33) and a few days (John 12:35). But it may be questionable whether the second 'little while' can stand the strain of the unspecified time between incarnation (Jesus' birth) and eschaton (the second coming).

Another view, and one that's perhaps more in tune with the themes of this section of John's Gospel, is that Jesus is referring to the disciples "no longer see[ing]" him after the events culminating in his ascension; and that the second "little while" refers to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost when they "will see" him. If something of the work of the Spirit is to reveal Jesus (John 16:13-15), this introduces a different aspect of 'seeing', one less dependent on encounter with the historical Jesus or even the risen Christ: but on 'seeing him' as he truly is, God's living word, redeeming act, incarnate love in and for the world - and me.


To Ponder

  • Which understanding of the sequence of events that Jesus' words are referring to makes more sense to you? Why?
  • What helps you to 'see' Jesus? How might the Spirit be at work in that?


Bible notes author: The Revd Carole Irwin

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