The Disciples’ Confusion

“So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and, “because I am going to the Father”?’ ” (v. 17).

- John 16:16–19

Among the many evidences that the four Gospels are accurate historical records is the Gospel writers’ willingness to describe the confusion of the disciples. If the Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—had wanted to invent history for the Christian church, they undoubtedly would have portrayed the original disciples of Jesus in the best possible light. After all, these men would be heroes of sorts to Christian believers, and if the Gospels were fictional works, it would be in the interest of the authors to paint the best picture of the disciples and their faith and understanding that they could. A failure to believe on the part of the original disciples makes them less admirable as models of faith, so the only reason to include examples of their confusion is to tell the truth about Jesus and His ministry. That we find many examples of the disciples’ being confused (for instance, Mark 6:45–52) or not believing Jesus lends credibility to the Gospels as historical records.

Today’s passage tells us about an occasion on which the disciples found themselves confused by one of Jesus’ statements. During His Farewell Discourse, Jesus said that they would not see Him after a little while but then they would see Him again (John 16:16–19). Commentators differ on what exactly Jesus was referring to, but it seems best to view His words as referring to His temporary departure via His suffering and death and then His return to the disciples after the resurrection, when He would meet with them in person again before His ascension. It is not surprising that such words would be confusing to the disciples, but the confusion was not the fault of Jesus. Until Jesus actually died and rose again from the dead, we see little indication that the disciples actually expected the crucifixion or that Jesus could be taken from them even temporarily (see, for example, Matt. 16:21–23). They were confused not because Jesus was unclear during the course of His ministry but because they did not want to believe what He said.

Notice that Jesus was not afraid to tell His disciples what lay ahead for them. As we will see in our study of John 16:21–24, Jesus understood that the news of His departure would sadden the disciples, but He did not refrain from giving them the hard news. In so doing, Jesus gave an example to all faithful pastors and counselors. If such people must give bad news in order to prepare people for what lies ahead, they must not shrink from giving it.

Coram Deo

Sometimes we may find ourselves confused by something Jesus says or by something else recorded in Scripture. At such times, we must remember that the problem is not the Scriptures but us. Sometimes we read something that is hard to receive because we know following it will bring trials. At such times, let us ask God to strengthen us and make us faithful no matter what we must endure.

Passages for Further Study

Matthew 7:13–14
John 6:60–71
1 Corinthians 14:33
2 Peter 3:14–18

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