What were Jesus’ last words to His disciples?
Don’t rush ahead to the Great Commission or even the words He spoke moments before His ascension. I’m talking about His final words immediately prior to His arrest, trials, passion, and crucifixion. According to the Apostle John, the last thing Jesus said in the way of teaching was:
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
Chapter 17 is a prayer spoken directly to the Father and then the dominoes begin to fall in the Garden of Gethsemane. The last thing Jesus said to the apostles before He would be separated from them by death was to expect hard times but not be defined by them.
Let that sink in.
The apostles didn’t know those were His final teaching words to them before His crucifixion, but Jesus knew. Not only because He said them, but when He said them makes them incredibly important. After all the miracles, instruction, and preparation for proclaiming and inheriting the kingdom of God, the last lesson was…expect trouble.
One of the most oft-asked questions by believers today is “Why is God letting this happen to me?” whenever trouble knocks on the door. Coupled with that is our immediate appeal to God to intervene by sending the trouble away.
Our theologians, preachers, and teachers seem to have done a pretty lackluster job in communicating those critical words of Jesus to His disciples. For so many in God’s kingdom, it is a bitter and difficult pill to swallow when they realize that their belief in, love for, and obedience to Jesus does not shield them from pain, temptation, and hardship. Somewhere through the centuries, salvation became a message about a happy life with the added (but secondary) bonus of eternal life in the hereafter.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).
“[D]o not be surprised…” and yet we almost always are. “[A]s though something strange were happening…” and yet the first thing we think when the trial begins is “Why?” How many books about bad things happening to good people have been written? We just don’t seem to be getting the message, do we?
It’s puzzling. Who in the Bible didn’t have problems? I can’t think of a single one. Even the object of our faith and love (Jesus) was humiliated, tortured, and murdered. Yet we’re shocked when the fiery trial arrives in our lives? Perhaps the most familiar Old Testament passage is the 23rd Psalm. Have we forgotten “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (v. 4)? Or, what about what James wrote:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2).
Yet when that which God’s Word promised us all would come upon us actually does, we act like we just got abducted by aliens and are being whisked away to the far side of the universe… “How could this happen to me?”
Weren’t we told that the righteous are required to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38)? And doesn’t faith imply, no, necessitate difficulty (who needs faith until trouble comes)? No wonder Peter said a fiery trial should not be deemed as strange.
Why do we seem to think that when trouble finds us it shouldn’t have?
It seems we have allowed Christianity to become more of a business enterprise rather than what it was intended to be (and was first called): the Way (John 14:6; Acts 24:14).
The message going forth from the pulpit and lectern week after week is apparently, how wonderful life is as a child of God. Your sins are gone. Your source is Christ. And your future is secure. Is that true? Of course, it is. But there is a lot that is missing isn’t there? Like how the Devil is “seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Or, “do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).
The word Jesus used in John 16:33 that is translated “tribulation” is θλιψις (thlipsis). Interestingly, that same word is also translated as “affliction, persecution, suffering, trouble, and burdened” in various other passages in the New Testament. The word literally means “pressure.” More specifically, “a pressing pressure.” In the world, you will have pressure. Pressure to yield. Pressure to succumb. Pressure to acquiesce. Pressure to fear. Pressure to despair. Pressure to disobey God.
There is no averting or escaping the pressure. “In the world you will have pressure,” Jesus said. Plan on it. Bank on it. Prepare for it. It is just as sound and inescapable a promise from God as His forgiveness for the repentant. Lives have been shattered because churchgoers weren’t prepared for the pressures of this world, and rather than “take heart” that Jesus would be their staff to lean on in the dark valley that they suddenly found themselves in, they heeded other voices who promised quick fixes (abortion, divorce, drugs, etc.). And they went from the dark valley into the oppressive cave of isolation and regret.
So, why even bother with Christianity if it cannot guarantee that God will remove all of life’s hardships going forward? Remember this:
- God knows how to take time spent in the dark valley and fashion it into stepping stones that lead to “My Father’s house” (John 14:1-2; Romans 8:28).
- For a prepared believer, those times of pressure guarantee divine Presence: “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) and “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 & Hebrews 13:6).
"God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain" (C.S. Lewis).