As the Farewell Discourse proper ends – the discourse is concluded with the high priestly prayer – Jesus looks to bring comfort to His disciples with a word of triumph. Jesus’ words are simple: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Within the direct context, Jesus is preparing His disciples for his coming arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. Though life in general is filled with tribulation, there is a specific period of tribulation that the disciples will face in a short period of time. Yet, we do not find ourselves in the same predicament as the disciples. For us, the resurrection has already occurred, but this Scripture is still written for our benefit (Romans 15:4). Though we do not live in a period of waiting for our Lord’s arrest, we do wait for His return. And Jesus’ words still ring true that this life is filled with tribulation, but Christ has overcome the world.
Eschatology is the study of the last things. The book of Revelation and the eschatological statements by Jesus in the Gospels tell us about the closing of the ages and the return of Christ for His people and the restoration of all things. But eschatology is also a means of hope for right now. Jesus’ words in 16:33 bring hope not only because it is a declaration that Christ will overcome the world – which we will see in its fullness in the eschaton – but that Christ’s overcoming of the world is current. Therefore, no matter what one’s particular eschatological view may be (pre-, a-, post-millennial), all believers should have confidence because of Christ’s words. Unfortunately, there has been an ethos of pessimistic eschatology in the past decades. One prominent evangelical preacher has even stated that “down here, we lose.” But a look at Jesus’ words doesn’t make this a possibility.
To be certain, we must also safeguard ourselves from having rose-colored eschatology; what theologians would consider an “over-realized eschatology” or what Martin Luther would call a “theology of glory.” We can see the crudest forms of this in the prosperity gospel movement. In this pompous preaching, there is essentially no tribulation at all for those who truly believe. In their estimation, since Christ has conquered, the believer should never be “broke, busted, and disgusted.” Jesus disillusions this notion with the reality that “you will have tribulation.” Those with an over-realized eschatology should humble themselves and look to Christian brothers and sisters in hostile nations, being persecuted, and yet still seeing the triumph of Christ, as many of these locations see the greatest growth of the church.
Though we may not experience persecution, we still face tribulations of various kinds. But by the presence and power of the Spirit, we do not face those tribulations hopelessly. Rather, we face them with confidence, with the full assurance that our Lord has overcome the world. Christ’s death and resurrection has broken the power of sin, Satan, and death. Through Him, we are indeed “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)