When someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease, how do they tell their family? How do they explain to their children that they are going to die? I cannot imagine a more difficult assignment.
Jesus had to do that. His disciples thought He came to be their king and free them from Roman dominion. Many times Jesus told them He would die, but they didn’t understand. Finally, as His time on earth neared the end He again explained that He was leaving. He said that they would be sad, but would see Him again. When that happened, they would have great joy that nothing or no one could take away.
Jesus also told them they would be able to pray in His name, get answers to their prayers, and have fullness of joy. But before the happy parts happened, they would abandon Him. Even in that, He assured them that He would not be alone for His Father was with Him. Finally, He added these words:
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. (John 16:33)
Jesus did not sugarcoat their future troubles; He said they would have a hard time. By doing this, He prepared them so they would not be surprised at any affliction or at their anguished response to that affliction. However, He put two positive statements on either side of the bad news.
First, in Him there is peace. This peace will not come from circumstances (which is usually the source of tribulation), but from the words He had said to them. Jesus may have meant His immediate prior words as described above where He told them what would happen. Knowing their future would tend to steady the disciples.
On the other hand, I think it is reasonable to say that most of the Word of God points readers to the peace of God. From Genesis to Revelation, the Word tells the story of God’s creation, man’s fall into sin, God’s redemption, and God’s work of re-creating humanity into a right relationship with Him. That restored relationship is one of peace; peace with Him, peace of heart, and peace with others.
Second, this troubled world is no match for Jesus. He has overcome it, conquered it, subdued it. Whatever happens in the world is subject to His sovereign will. No matter what the world throws at us, He can use it for the good of His people (Romans 8:28-29) — that we might become more like Him.
What are the tribulations of the world? Pressure, affliction, anguish, burdened, persecution and trouble says the Greek dictionary. It can be struggles with my own sin that produce some of these things, or struggles against the sins of others that do it. Either way, this is what Jesus has overcome — sin.
Tribulation can include such things as the challenges of relationships, making a living, sickness and the inevitability of death. Jesus has conquered these also. He gives us the Holy Spirit that we might love one another from the heart. He promises to take care of our daily needs, even to heal our ailments and bless us in every way.
Of course, the greatest tribulation is death and the fear of death, which has been mightily overcome by the One who rose from the dead and gives eternal life to all who believe in Him.
As I think on these things and remember the Words of Christ, I know His peace has changed my life. I also know that because He overcomes the world I also have what I need to overcome my tribulations, both large and small. For this, I take heart and rejoice!