What Does John 16:33 Mean?
These are the words of Jesus Christ in which so many Christians, down through the centuries, have found great solace and a source of energizing of their faith. Before we take a closer look at the meaning of John 16:33, let’s consider who wrote this verse.
Who wrote John 16:33?
The Gospel according to John is the fourth of the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke include the same accounts of the life of Jesus, often in the same order and even with the same wording, but the gospel of John is more focused on the teaching of Jesus. The Gospel of John, the three Epistles and the Book of Revelation are all, ostensibly, written by Saint John the Apostle, ‘the beloved disciple of Jesus’, but scholars disagree. Many scholars argue that the sophisticated language and the developed theology point to a later composition date, possibly as late as 100 A.D. and that the gospel is based on the writings and teachings of John, rather than authored by him.
What is the meaning of John 16:33?
‘I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ NIV
Jesus is summing up his teaching to his disciples, telling them that all that he has imparted to them is to bring his disciples closer to God. But Jesus doesn’t pull any punches, being a Christian does not mean that the world will give you some kind of protected celebrity status: ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ This stark statement is immediately followed by reassurance and the astonishing assertion: ‘I have overcome the world’. Before we look at what Jesus is saying here, let’s consider what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say: ‘I will overcome the world’ and he doesn’t say ‘I have overcome evil’. Instead, he takes the word ‘world’ which he has just used in the grim reminder ‘In this world you will have trouble’ and says ‘I have overcome the world.’ God made the world. The world is not evil, but it contains evil. Of course Jesus has overcome the world, he is the Son of God, and through him, Christians can ‘overcome the world’.
Now let’s take a look at how this verse appears in other versions of the bible.
John 16:33 King James Version
‘These things have I spoken unto you’
that in me ye might have peace.
In the world ye shall have tribulation:
But be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.
We can see immediately that, once we strip out the archaic ‘ye’ and ‘unto’, the New International Version follows the words of its 400-year-old predecessor very closely. The important exception is the KJV use of the word ‘tribulation’. It can be argued that this too is an archaic word, which has largely fallen out of use, but let’s look at the dictionary definition of this Middle English word. It means rather more than trouble, it means ‘ a condition of great affliction, oppression or misery, persecution, distress, vexation.’ To me, this describes the condition of the early Christian martyrs much more forcefully than the word ‘trouble’. What do you think?
John 16:33 New American Standard Bible
‘These things I have spoken to you,
so that in Me you may have peace.
In the world you have tribulation,
But take courage;
I have overcome the world’
The New American Standard Bible modernizes the language of the King James Version, but retains the key words and attains a majestic simplicity in doing so. What do you think?
John 16:33 The Message
‘I’ve told you all this so that trusting me,
you will be unshakable and assured,
deeply at peace. In this godless
world you will continue to experience difficulties.
But take heart!
I’ve conquered the world’.
Whilst acknowledging the honest intentions of this ‘accessible’ version of the bible, I often struggle with its radical departure from the older versions of the text and this is a verse I certainly struggle with. The first sentence seems to me absolutely in line with the meaning of earlier texts, but the insertion of the word ‘godless’ in the second sentence I find problematic. How can God’s creation be described as ‘godless’? ‘Continue to experience difficulties’ sounds like a corporate apology for your T.V. reception and ‘conquered’ sounds triumphalist and military and a long way from the humility, which Jesus teaches. What do you think?
John 16:33 in context
John 16 records Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples on the last night before his crucifixion, by verse 33 he is drawing to the conclusion of what he has to say. Earlier in the chapter Jesus had told his disciples that he would be leaving them soon and that both he and they will face suffering, that no one avoids trouble and that Peace is to be found through faith.
Reflections on John 16:33
Christ’s words, here, are particularly savored, by Christians. They are a summation of his teaching, an invitation to remembrance, a clear warning of what is to come, but most of all a reassurance that Christian faith is the path to God.
Read next: What Does John 3:16 Mean? "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." When it comes to reading the Bible there are certain passages and verses that are more well known than others. One of those is John 3:16. What is its meaning?