“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 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’?”—John 16:16–17
As the Upper Room Discourse draws to a close, Jesus presents to the disciples something of a riddle. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Later, this riddle, along with Jesus’ elaborations thereon, are referred to as “figures of speech.” The disciples later say that they understand once Jesus speaks plainly (16:29), but it is clear that even then they don’t yet fully get it.
The gospel is a divine joke that Jesus lets His friends in on. When the joke sets in for the disciples, their sorrow will be turned to joy. They will then see how Jesus’ trouble speaks to their comfort. They will laugh and their joy will be indestructible. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (16:20).
When does the joke set in? They will see when they see. In a little while, they will see. The resurrection is the punch line that brings joy out of the cross. The gospel is not a joke for those with a dark, twisted, macabre sense of humor.
John Piper has said that the gospels are meant to be read backwards. There is a sense in which you have to read them twice in order just to read them once. In particular, he was referring to the cross as illuminating everything that comes before it, but of course he meant the cross in light of the resurrection. You must not only read the life of Jesus in light of His death. You must read His death in light of His life—His resurrection life.
Sinclair Ferguson tells of a clever British economist who when asked one December of the expected economic forecast answered, “the significance of Christmas will not become clear until Easter.” Easter is the explanation to the riddle of Christmas. God wrapped His Son in Human flesh in the incarnation. The meaning of that gift was unwrapped when His flesh was rent on the cross. But it is the Resurrection that then makes sense of why Good Friday is good. If there is no resurrection, there is no gospel. Without the resurrection, the cross is void of good news. But the tomb is empty, and thus, our hearts are full of joy.