I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy. – John 16:20 (NET)
These words from Jesus follow statements like “But now I am going to the One Who sent Me” (16:5a), “it is to your advantage that I am going away” (16:7b), and “In a little while you will see Me no longer; again after a little while, you will see Me” (16:16). Though the disciples did not understand what it was that Jesus was He referencing with such statements (16:18b), believers have the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge that Jesus was speaking of His what He was almost certain was His pending crucifixion, along with what He hoped and prayed was His Resurrection.
To that end, Jesus goes on to say that “though you have sorrow now… I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (16:22). In the Gospel accounts, Jesus is presented as one who is fully reliant upon His understanding of the promises of the one He called Father, as it related to His understanding of the role and vocation of the messiah as set forth based upon Israel’s prophetic history and long-running narrative as the covenant people of the Creator God, that the suffering and death of the messiah was necessary (the messiah, as king, represents the people and would experience a personal exile and exodus on their behalf).
Based on the presentation of Jesus in those same Gospel, it would seem that Jesus also hoped that the messiah, having suffered on behalf of all of the covenant people (the Creator God’s chosen people from Abraham through this day) and the whole of the creation, would be delivered from that suffering and be somehow raised up from the dead.
Generally, when one reads about the world rejoicing at Jesus going away, or going into death, there is an almost natural tendency amongst those trained in the sometimes unhelpfully dualistic Christian mindset of “us versus the world,” to think about the “wicked” and “evil” sinners exalting in jubilation over the fact that the man that was pointing out their sins and making them feel bad about themselves, was removed from their presence, never to be heard from again. In doing this, there is another tendency to point an unwarranted finger of judgment, especially as one considers that it is said that it was while believers were yet sinners (outside of right covenant standing and failing to rightly bear the divine image) that Jesus died for them (Romans 5:8).
As one thinks in this way, he or she is naturally led to the final verse of this chapter in John, where it is insisted that “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage---I have conquered the world” (16:33b). Believers too often get themselves hung up on that which applies to them---the trouble and suffering---thinking of this as the wicked sinners of this world---the ones that rejoiced at Jesus being killed---as being against them because of their trust in Jesus, somehow forgetting or not realizing that the more important part of the statement is that Jesus has indeed conquered the world.
In thinking along such lines, believers may also fail to recognize that part of what they are called to do, if they are truly in a believing union with the Christ, is to, by the mysterious motivation and empowerment of the Spirit of the Creator God that is so heavily spoken of in this chapter, enter into the trouble and suffering of the world, as did Jesus (who certainly did not escape suffering and shame). This is to be done so that they might, as the Apostle Paul says, rejoice in sufferings and fill up in their physical bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).