By Randy Dillon
John 16:22-23 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
In verses 1-16 of chapter 16 Jesus tells His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He ends by stating that they will not see Him for “a little while” and then “in a little while” they will once again see Him because He is going to the Father. Later in the same chapter Jesus says that they would “weep and lament” but their sorrow would be turned to “joy”, He then draws an analogy to a woman who is in sorrow while in labor but joyful following delivery. He follows this with the statement in verses 22-23 which are the subject at hand.
The issue is this question: At what time is Jesus referring to in this statement? There are at least three interpretations of this passage, each different than the others.
The following analysis gives an overview of each way of viewing these statements and some comments about the interpretation. Keep in mind that there are many scriptural passages open to two or more interpretations depending upon how one approaches the topic being discussed. Most of the time these are not dealing with fundamentals of the faith. Nonetheless, they may leave us with a less than accurate understanding of scriptural intent.
Interpretation 1: Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit. After His crucifixion there would be sorrow, but the disciples would have joy in seeing Him again after the resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit would come after His ascension and they would bring their petitions to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus. Since this passage is directly after Jesus has spoken about the Holy Spirit, there is a certain logic to this interpretation. However, the Holy Spirit is not explicitly named or referenced in these or the following verses.
Interpretation 2: Jesus is referring to our direct contact with God the Father. We no longer have need of priests to act as our intermediary with the Father since Jesus is our mediator with the Father and we have direct contact when we pray in His name. It is the previously mentioned Holy Spirit of God residing within us that allows this direct access. Jesus is our High Priest who intercedes for us. Yet, Jesus says that “in that day ye shall ask me nothing.” At the present we do ask of Jesus for intercession. At what time will this not be our need?
Interpretation 3: Jesus is speaking about our eternal experience not our mortal existence. The disciples were to have sorrow at His death, but they would have joy upon seeing Him again in the afterlife. Their hearts would rejoice and no one could take away that joy. He then says: “in that day ye shall ask me nothing.” Does this suggest that we will have no questions in heaven? Or does it rather suggest that we will exist in such a glorified state that our petitions made directly to the Father in the name of Jesus will be so exactly tied to the will of God that we will never ask anything that is out of God’s will. So perfectly aligned will our desires be to God’s will that we would never ask anything amiss from God’s plan for our eternal life. In our mortal existence we often ask selfishly or inappropriately. God answers, but not always as we expect or understand. But in our eternal life our every request “he will give it you.”
There are often in prophecies a short term answer and also a answer which involves a longer timeline. Yet, both can be correct interpretations. Here we may find all three as acceptable interpretations of the words of Jesus appropriate to different occasions and circumstances, and each in its own time and framework. Now take the time to read verses 24-33 and decide which interpretation you would give greater weight to and which you would find less suitable, if any, to your understanding.