In John 16:16–24, as Jesus speaks to His disciples about leaving them and going to the Father, they are confused, fearful, and filled with questions. Recognizing their desperate need for encouragement, Jesus teaches them about the Holy Spirit, who would be given to believers after Christ returned to heaven (see John 16:1–22). The Holy Spirit would be their Counselor and the One to fill them with a divine supply of power and joy (Acts 13:52; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Romans 14:17; 15:13).
Before Christ’s death, the disciples could speak directly to Jesus and ask Him questions. After His resurrection and ascension, they would pray to the Father in His name, through the Holy Spirit: “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23–24, ESV). With these words, Jesus presented the great promise and privilege of spending time with the Father in prayer.
The Greek word for “joy” (chara) in John 16:24 usually expresses an emotion of “sorrow-turned-into-joy.” The joy that follows great sorrow is a heightened feeling of gladness because of the extreme contrast of emotions. It is the joy of the caring shepherd who finds his one lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7), the joy of the woman who finds her lost coin (Luke 15:8–10), and the joy of the father whose lost son returns home (Luke 15:11–32).
The disciples would weep over Christ’s death and be distraught for a little while. But after the resurrection, “Your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy” (John 16:20, NLT), explained Jesus, because “I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy” (John 16:22, NLT). Jesus compared the kind of joy they would experience to that of “a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world” (John 16:21, (NLT).
The “fullness of joy” is a theme in John’s writing (see 1 John 1:4). He frequently stresses that Jesus calls His followers into a life of joy. When Jesus taught about abiding in Him and obeying the Father’s commands, He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV). Before His arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13).
That your joy may be full expresses a complete kind of joy—the utmost measure of joy. The disciples would soon know the most replete experience of joy or as much joy as was possible (see Luke 24:51–52). The Holy Spirit brings the fullness of joy to believers, giving them an inner sense of well-being, good fortune, peace, and happiness that is not dependent on external circumstances (see 2 Corinthians 7:4; Philippians 2:17; Colossians 1:24). This is the same “great joy” promised by the angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:10). This joy comes to all who experience a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Psalm 13:5; Romans 14:17; Philippians 4:4; 1 Peter 1:8–9).
Joy is the fruit of a Spirit-filled life (Galatians 5:22). Even when persecution and troubles come, those who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), are “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18), “live by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) can “rejoice and be glad” for their reward in heaven will be great (Matthew 5:12). Like Paul, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3–4, NLT).
Peter witnessed believers enduring trials and fiery tests of faith, but because their trust in God remained strong, they could “rejoice with a glorious inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:6–8, NLT). James urged, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, ESV).
Jesus taught the disciples to ask and receive from the Father “that [their] joy may be full.” He wanted them to understand that they were complete and lacked nothing in the security of the Father’s grip. They had already been given the best Gift ever—the Son—and the Father would continue to give good gifts: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The disciples would experience the full measure of joy because of their fellowship with God—a relationship made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus continues to comfort us during times of trouble, reminding us of the joy we can experience if we keep our eyes on Him, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV).