I Have Overcome the World
Dr. Valson Abraham
In the Upper Room Jesus partakes of His final meal with His disciples before His trial and crucifixion. There, He makes an astounding claim we all do well to heed: “In the world, you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Here, Jesus reminds His disciples of a reality they (and we) face every day of earthly life: we live in a fallen world. We are fallen human beings who live among fallen human beings. We live in a world of decay and death. In such a world, we will face tribulation. The seeds of tribulation lie all around us and within us. The world Greek word for “tribulation” carries the meaning to being beaten like wheat to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In this world, everyone faces tribulation. No one is excluded. It affects both the good and the bad. Everyone experiences afflictions that are ongoing throughout life—bad beginnings, illness, poverty, slander, heartaches of all kinds, mental, physical and spiritual torments. In addition, those who follow Jesus will face persecution and hatred from those who despise the cross and misunderstand its message. No one likes tribulation, but we never escape it.
What does Jesus’ overcoming of the world mean? What does it have to do with us in our own tribulations?
First of all, we must remember that Jesus Himself did not escape tribulation. Many times, we think that Jesus in His divinity and righteousness lived above it all, but in reality, He was a man like ourselves, subject to the same temptations and sufferings like others. He was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” Isaiah tells us.
In some ways, Jesus carried burdens and griefs none of us has to carry. He came into this world as the Good Shepherd. His flock included not a single congregation but the whole world. He not only carried His own burdens but every other person’s burdens.
On the other hand, multitudes saw Him heal others and cast out demons, and they wanted to make Him king of an earthly kingdom like that of Rome. They wanted Him to raise an army and destroy all these foreigners who had occupied their country for centuries. He had the personality and charisma to make it happen. He could have done it and secured riches, power and fame like no one else in world history. He could have set up a state church like none other.
But this is the world’s way, and Jesus would have none of it. He refused to have anything to do with the world’s ways of doing things.
The “world” of which Jesus speaks is the world system that lies in the hands of His great enemy, Satan. Satan is the one who steals, kills and destroys. Satan is the one at the heart of all human turmoil and heartache. He is the one who bends the entire human culture, government, educational system, religious enterprise, customs and economics against God. He bends the system to godless values of selfishness, self-sufficiency, evil, mischief and dishonesty. He kills the spirit and leaves us without hope, victims of fate and circumstances beyond our control. He blinds our eyes to the God who made us and fashioned the universe.
But Jesus overcame this world occupied by Satan. He always remembered who He was—the Son of God. He did not compromise with “the system.” He did not allow Himself to be influenced by His times and circumstances. Though He was born as a Jew, raised in synagogues, and knew contemporary ways backwards and forwards, He did not allow himself to become part of it.
He demonstrated His power over nature. He demonstrated His power over sickness and disease. He demonstrated His power over the demonic spirit world. He was not swayed by any political or religious elite. He refused to use the world’s armies and magic words to sway multitudes and gain power. Instead, He loved each person who came to Him, especially those who had no power at all. He even loved those who hated Him.
He knew how to read the hearts of others. He gave His attention especially to those who were despised by others. He refused no one who came to Him in faith. His compassion for others in their distresshad no end. He refused to let others define who he was. He would not allow Himself to be forced into any boxes.
During His earthly ministry, He actually challenged His greatest enemies to find any sin or defect in His actions and character, but they remained silent.
Now,in John 16, He had come to the end of His earthly ministry. In a matter of hours, He would destroy the most powerful and dreaded weapon at Satan’s command: death. By destroying the power of death, He would render powerless every other weapon at Satan’s command. Not even death could claim Him. Three days later, He would rise from the dead.
In other words, whether in His life or even His death, Jesus overcame the world.
Not only that, but a few minutes earlier, Jesus promised His disciples that the same power that empowered Him would also empower them to work His works, to live a life like His, to overcome the power of death. In fact, He said, “Greater works than I have done, you will do.”
The power for them to do this would come from the same power that enabled Him to beat the world—the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, He would give them the power and authority to cast out demons, to heal the sick, to overcome the power of fate and bad karma. Through the Holy Spirit, He would give them the power to use all their tribulations for good, to bring blessing to others, even as Jesus used the cross to overcome the power of death and bring salvation to generations.
In short, Jesus overcame the world, even while He faced more disadvantages than we face in our own lives. He went to the cross, dreading the suffering He would have to endure in the short run, but knowing that in the end, it would bring resurrection for Him, the breaking of Satan’s power and victory for untold multitudes in the days and years ahead.
None of this comes to us automatically. Jesus Christ has taken the initiative on our behalf, and He has broken down the barriers we face. But we must recognize His unique achievement and respond by accepting Him as Friend and Brother.
We must acquaint ourselves with all He offers us. We must abide in Him and in His Word. We must respond to His love for us by growing in our love for Him. We must set aside our own preconceptions, opinions and schedules and trust His judgments. We must learn to obey Him as the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.
We must focus our faith and worship upon Jesus alone. This is not narrowmindedness as some would claim. Who else can honestly claim to have overcome the world system, fate and karma and defeated death in the way Christ did? If you can find such a person, go ahead and follow him (or her), but I doubt whether you will.
There is one other thing we must do—we must make Him known. Anyone who has singlehandedly overcome the world system and all its bondages and lies is worth knowing.
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Father God, thank you for sending your Son into the world to overcome its evil system and enable me to also overcome it through the power of His cross, resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit. Help me learn how to put this to work in my own life and make it available to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.