Today marks the end of chapter 16 for this study. Chapter 17 is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer which warrants its own study because it is a portal through which we can read ourselves into this story, and sort through the theological assumptions which our traditions have hoisted upon us. This study, in which we have been immersed, offers the necessary lens and frameworks through which we can truly mine the depths of Jesus’ famous prayer, but that will remain for another time.
I’ve shown how this 14 week study has been a dissection of what would have been a conversation lasting only a few hours. This means that the confusion the disciples possessed in the beginning is still largely present now. The bulk of chapter 16 is a reflection of just how confused the disciples were and how Jesus is sobering them up for what is rapidly approaching.
For example, it has not fully set in for them that Jesus is going to be killed and that he is departing to the Father, but more than that, the idea that he would be coming back from the upcoming events is even harder to grasp. This is seen in this dialogue in verse 19.
“Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?”
Jesus uses the metaphor of childbirth which is an event that contains both sorrow and joy. In like manner, his death will possess both immense sorrow along with profound joy once they see the power of the resurrection and fully grasp the implications of what that actually means for them and the rest of the world.
Chapter 16 concludes with this very familiar verse:
“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.” (v.33)
Once again we see that if this verse is interpreted by separating it from the rest of the context, certain cultural assumptions creep into the passage which are not necessarily there. The most common of these is the definition of world or kosmos. Throughout this study, the kosmos is clearly defined as the institutional powers or “world systems” of Religion and State. When we correctly define this term, an uncommon message emerges which I want to highlight for you.
In order to see it, we must first consider the thread of ones “ontology” (one’s true self found in God) that has been a central to this conversation throughout. Being named by God, belonging in the relationship dynamic or flow of divine union as Jesus is, is what this whole study has been pointing to. The disciples (as chapter 17 reveals) and all of those who come after them in faith, are afforded this amazing proximity to God, without the overreach, power plays, and pomp that religion hoists upon us. Jesus message is subversive to Religion and State because those who share in divine union with him and the Father are named (i.e. found) or defined by their Maker and not the institutional powers found in life.
This lens allows us to see these words more clearly. “In the world you will have tribulation..” The Greek word “thlīphis” has many definitions meaning (trouble, suffering, tribulation, affliction, distress, hardship, or persecution). No doubt all of these difficult realities are part of life and are experiences which we will all face. The better question, which jumps out from this study is: “Why do we have these “in the world“ (én tói kósmoi)?
Jesus is clearly saying; “In Institutional Religion you will have trouble.”
This is an easy nuance to miss, but once you see it, it opens a portal for profound liberation. To be “in the world” does not mean to live on the earth, or to exist on this planet. To be “in the world” is essentially to be “over-identified” with institutional power. Another way of saying this is to be defined by, or named by, or seek approval, validation, or acceptance from some institution rather than in the divine union with our Maker, who alone has the right to name us and define us.
This is visible by Jesus phrase which immediately precedes this statement, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” The Greek term “eiréne” means (freedom from worry, or peace, or tranquility, or favorable frame of mind). In other words, to be in peace or to be at peace is to be fully “Who we are in God.” It is to be authentic or real. This is what Jesus told a massive audience in his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (téleios-genuine, complete, mature, authentic, perfect)
This allows us to decode why so many people suffer or have tribulation in life. The main cause of human suffering is that people do not know who they truly are, and as a result they have derived their identity from some institutional power instead of their Maker. As Kierkegaard would say,
“people live in despair, refusing to be themselves before God.” The more we insist on deriving our identity from institutional power, the more lost we become. This is the essence of a false self (pseudonym), what scripture calls falsehood or lies, living a false life, which ultimately becomes the constant source of pain as we strive to live a life which is out of step with our design and with reality.
By contrast, those who realize that their Maker is the only one who can give us an identity, and have done so by calling us friends (beloved) then nothing else can label us. We are not our jobs, our families, our income, our sins or shortcomings, we are not our cities, our religions, or the things we do or make. We are simply, beloved children of God. “I call you friends” (John 5:15). Once that sets into our framework, the result is peace, because that is the essence of true acceptance, true validation, and true approval, no matter what every other voice in life may say.
This identification is the power which subverts all other powers and as a result means none of them can overpower us. This is why Jesus concludes his encouragement with:
“But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The work of the promised Messiah (Christ) has not been to overpower the powers, that would simply be another egoic power play which always leads to war and destruction. The non-violent path to peace is to simply not be over-identified with world systems. Institutional power can only command a surface level of compliance through threat, intimidation, fear, guilt or manipulation, but it cannot access nor dominate that part of our true being, our ontological center, unless we give that part to it. Thus when our true self is identified with our Maker, we can live in the world but not of it, and we are free, and like Christ we overcome it’s power over us, even if it uses its power to harm, marginalize, or even kill us, as the kosmos does to Christ.
This is what it means to be saved, or to have true inner freedom, to know who we truly are and to avoid the suffering and despair of living a false live enslaved to the principalities and powers of the world’s systems.
Now that you can see this, I encourage you to go back and re-read chapters 14-16. See if you don’t see this theme repeating itself as Jesus final message to his disciples. Next begin reading your bible through this lens and watch the bible open up to you in a way you could never have imagined. You’ll discover, just as I did, that nearly every verse of scripture is pointing to this central theme of ontology and authenticity. You’ll discover how Heaven and Hell are first and foremost states of consciousness from which we live our lives, long before they could ever become eternal destinations that religion levy’s over our heads for tribal compliance.
Like Jesus and his disciples, living in fidelity to this identification with Maker may mean we part ways with institutions and people who cannot see what we see, but the end result is always peace, and living this way means that heaven has already come to us. To be hidden in Christ and found in God, is the very definition of heaven, it means we have not only found God, but found ourselves and there is not greater pursuit in life than this. No wonder Jesus told his disciples this instead of starting a new religion. These are truly the most helpful, the most beautiful…famous last 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.”