You might not know it, the way we Christians talk. But Jesus Christ says, in essence: “Even in volatile seasons, smile at the future. Laugh at the days to come.”
In John 16:33 (NKJV), he said it this way: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Only when we see his words in context do we begin to grasp their force. Jesus wasn’t dismissing or minimizing the hard stuff. He was facing the worst head-on, and announcing beforehand, “I have conquered it.”
Here, then, is the context:
The night before his crucifixion, Christ ate with his 12 apostles in an upper room. Then, as Judas exited to betray him, Jesus walked with the 11 to the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way, he talked. Every word he spoke prepared his followers for the new, volatile season already careening in.
Before entering the garden where he would be betrayed and arrested, Jesus stopped teaching and started praying. He prayed for all his followers of all time (John 17). The last thing he uttered before he prayed – the capstone of his teachings – was this:
“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” (John 16:33 AMP).
Seeing the greater reality
With Jesus’ strong words in mind, let’s rewind to the scene in the upper room and replay an excerpt.
First, though, pause to imagine that you’re standing in a doorway between two rooms. The people in one room can see only what’s taking place there. But you can see simultaneously what’s happening in both. You can see how the events in one room dramatically impact and radically alter what happens in the other.
So now, notice what Jesus saw and did, as he stood with eyes wide open to two realities:
“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father … The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” (John 13:1-5).
How could Jesus smile at the future? Facing his own crucifixion, how could he tell his disciples, “Be of good cheer”? Jesus lived in two worlds simultaneously. He walked and taught, healed people and washed feet, wept in agony, died on a cross and rose again in this world. At the same time, he saw and operated in another world, a kingdom that already exists and, though unseen, rules over all.
Taking up the towel in the upper room, Jesus saw his Father handing him “complete charge of everything” (John 13:2 MSG). He saw the cross, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s coming – and the sweeping changes all of that would bring in eternity and in time; in heaven and on earth. Stooping to wash dirty feet, Jesus saw his Father standing in heaven’s doorway, welcoming him triumphantly home.
Jesus knew what his followers would see as the next three days unfolded. He deeply desired that they also see the greater reality:
- Because of that pivotal moment in history, God’s kingdom will come. It will arrive in its glorious fullness the day the Lord Jesus returns in glory.
- Because of that pivotal moment in history, God’s kingdom has come. It’s already here.
With Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the unseen world invaded what is seen. Because he died and rose again, ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, all who confess, “Jesus is Lord,” can also live in two worlds at the same time – the natural world we can see with our eyes, and the supernatural one we can see only by the Spirit.
Living in the One who reigns
From the start, Jesus offered his followers access to a world they couldn’t yet see. Succinctly, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17).
The Greek word translated repent literally means “to change one’s mind.” Bill Johnson writes:
It was as though He said, “If you don’t change the way you perceive things, you’ll live your whole life thinking that what you see in the natural is the superior reality. Without changing the way you think you’ll never see the world that is right in front of you. It’s My world, and it fulfills every dream you’ve ever had. And I brought it with me.”*
At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:19-20).
Later, the apostle Paul wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
What is unseen is eternal. That doesn’t mean it starts at death, or when the temporal world ends. The unseen world always exists. Always. Even now.
Graham Cooke describes how seeing the unseen can impact us:
Imagine that you are on a battlefield. Your army is small, especially in the face of the massive force that opposes you. You’re outnumbered. You’re outgunned … With everything stacked against you, you realize your only hope of survival is to run away. But you are a warrior: retreat is not an option.
In your heart, you decide you will fight as best you can … You turn your gaze onto the tallest, meanest-looking enemy you can see …
Now look eighteen inches above that enemy soldier. Do you see who’s there? It’s Jesus, grinning and waving at you. When you make eye contact with Him, He winks. The enemy has no clue that He’s there – it’s a private joke between Him and you. The Lord flips you a thumbs-up. “He’s really going to enjoy this,” you think to yourself. In your spirit, your resolve is joined by boldness and faith. Everything is different now because the King is here. This is going to be a good fight, because you’re going to overcome all odds and win.**
As Western Christians, we often don’t have a clue how to live in two worlds at the same time. We inhabit the “room” of the natural, and remain oblivious to what is happening simultaneously in the spiritual. Seeing only the “seen,” we deeply fear what lies ahead.
Yet Jesus came, died, rose, ascended and sent the Spirit so we who know him would not live that way.
In the upper room – before the cross – “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.” Jesus Christ could swallow up the death that tried to swallow him, because his Father had literally given ALL into his hands. After the resurrection, Jesus affirmed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). He rules in both worlds!
We don’t yet see it with our physical eyes. But God’s kingdom is here and is increasing. The King of kings is taking territory the enemy just knew was forever his. The Redeemer is overruling the plans of darkness – transforming outcomes, changing lives. He says to those in whose hearts he reigns, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future” (Jer. 29:11 NCV).
Living in him, we do not deny the realities of this world. Rather – like Jesus in the upper room – we see what’s occurring here in light of what’s happening in the unseen realm. Spirit-to-spirit, we cooperate with our Lord. We invite what happens in his world to conquer and redeem what happens in ours.
Seeing his kingdom come, we find peace and confidence rising in us, no matter how volatile the season. We take courage. We remain undaunted. Ah, then, we can be of good cheer.
* Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2003), 38.
** Graham Cooke, Manifesting Your Spirit (Vacaville, CA: Brilliant Book House, 2008), 11-12.
Smiling at the Future Series
Can laughter be a strategy for victory in a volatile season?
This series is adapted from the Key Truths e-column, “Smiling Just Thinking About It.” © Deborah P. Brunt 2008, 2014. All rights reserved.