John 13:33
Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You shall seek me: and as I said to the Jews, Where I go, you cannot come; so now I say to you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(33) Little children, yet a little while I am with you.—The thought of His own glory brings with it the thought of their state of orphanage when He shall have departed from them, and He addresses them as “Little children,” with a word of tenderness spoken only here by Him. The word impressed itself upon the mind of St. John, and it occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in his First Epistle (1John 2:1; 1John 2:12; 1John 2:28; 1John 3:7; 1John 3:18; 1John 4:4; 1John 5:21), and in an uncertain reading in the striking words of St. Paul, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” (See Note on Galatians 4:19, and comp. Introduction, p. 371.)

For the remainder of the verse, see Notes on John 7:33-34; John 8:21.

John

ONE SAYING WITH TWO MEANINGS

SEEKING JESUS

CANNOT AND CAN

John 13:33
.

The preceding context shows how large and black the Cross loomed before Jesus now, and how radiant the glory beyond shone out to Him. But it was only for a moment that either of these two absorbed His thoughts; and with wonderful self-forgetfulness and self-command, He turned away at once from the consideration of how the near future was to affect Him, to the thought of how it was to affect the handful of helpless disciples who had to be left alone. Impending separation breaks up the fountains of the heart, and we all know the instinct that desires to crowd all the often hidden love into some one last token. So here our Lord addresses His disciples by a name that is never used except this once, ‘little children,’ a fond diminutive that not only reveals an unusual depth of tender emotion, but also breathes a pitying sense of their defencelessness when they are to be left alone. So might a dying mother look at her little ones.

But the words that follow, at first sight, are dark with the sense of a final and complete separation. ‘Ye shall seek Me’-and not only so, but He seems to put back His humble friends into the same place as had been occupied by His bitter foes-’as I said to the Jews, whither I go ye cannot come; so now I say to you.’ There was something that prevented both classes alike from keeping Him company; and He had to walk His path both into the darkness and into the glory, alone.

The words apply in their fullness only to the parenthesis of time whilst He lay in the grave, and the disciples despairingly thought that all was ended. It was a brief period: it was a revolutionary moment; and though it was soon to end, they needed to be guarded against it. But though the words do not apply to the permanent relation between the glorified Christ and us, His disciples, yet partly by similarity, and still more by contrast, they do suggest great Christian blessedness and imperative Christian duties. These gather themselves mainly round two contrasts, a transitory ‘cannot’ soon to be changed into a permanent ‘can’; and a momentary seeking, soon to be converted into a blessed seeking which finds. I now deal only with the former.

We have here a transitory ‘cannot’ soon to be changed into a permanent ‘can.’

‘Whither I go ye cannot come.’ Does not one hear a tone of personal sorrow in that saying? Jesus had always hungered for understanding and sympathetic companions, and one of His lifelong sorrows had been His utter loneliness; but He had never, in all the time that He had been with them, so put out His hand, feeling for some warm clasp of a human hand to help Him in His struggle, as He did during the hours terminating with Gethsemane. And perhaps we may venture to say that we hear in this utterance an expression of Christ’s sorrow for Himself that He had to tread the dark way, and to pass into the brightness beyond, all alone. He yearned for the impossible human companionship, as well as sorrowed for the imperfections which made it impossible.

Why was it that they could not ‘follow Him now’? The answer to that question is found in the consideration of whither it was that He went. When that bright Shekinah-cloud at the Ascension received Him into its radiant folds, it showed why they could not follow Him, because it revealed that He went unto the Father, when He left the world. So we are brought face to face with the old, solemn thought that character makes capacity for heaven. ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy place?’ asked the Psalmist; and a prophet put the question in a still sharper form, and by the very form of the question suggested a negative answer-’Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire; who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ Who can pass into that Presence, and stand near God, without being, like the maiden in the old legend, shrivelled into ashes by the contact of the celestial fire? ‘Holiness’ is that ‘without which no man shall see the Lord.’ And we, all of us, in the depths of our own hearts, if we rightly understand the voices that ever echo there, must feel that the condition which is, obviously and without any need for arguing it, required for abiding with God, and so going into the glory where Christ is, is a condition which none of us can fulfil. In that respect the imperfect and immature friends, the little children, the babes who loved and yet knew not Him whom they loved, and the scowling enemies, were at one. For they had all of them the one human heart, and in that heart the deep-lying alienation and contrariety to God. Therefore Christ trod the winepress alone, and alone ‘ascended up where He was before.’

But let us remember that this ‘cannot’ was only a transitory cannot. For we must underscore very deeply that word in my text ‘so now I say to you,’ and a moment afterwards, when one of the Apostles puts the question: ‘Why cannot I follow Thee now?’ the answer is: ‘Thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.’ The text, too, is succeeded immediately by the wonderful parting consolations and counsels spoken to the disciples, through all of which there gleams the promise that they will be with Him where He is, and behold His glory. Set side by side with these sad words of our Lord in the text, by which He unloosed their clasping hands from Him, and turned His face to His solitary path, the triumphant language in which habitually the rest of the New Testament speaks of the Christian man’s relation to Christ. Think of that great passage: ‘Ye are come unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, . . . and to God the Judge of all, . . . and to Jesus the Mediator of the new Covenant.’ What has become of the impossibility? Vanished. Where is the ‘cannot’? Turned into a blessed ‘can.’ And so Apostles have no scruple in saying, ‘Our citizenship is in Heaven,’ nor in saying, ‘We sit together with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ The path that was blocked is open. The impossibility that towered up like a great black wall has melted away; and the path into the Holiest of all is made patent by the blood of Christ. For in that death there lies the power that sweeps away all the impediments of man’s sin, and in that life of the risen, glorified, indwelling Christ there lies the power which cleanses the inmost heart from ‘all filthiness of flesh and spirit,’ and makes it possible for our mortal feet to walk on the immortal path, and for us, with all our unworthiness, with all our shrinking, to stand in His presence and not be ashamed or consumed. ‘Ye cannot come’ was true for a few days. ‘Ye can come’ is true for ever; and for all Christian men.

But let us not forget that the one attitude of heart and mind, by which a poor, sinful man, who dare not draw near to God, receives into himself the merit and power of the death, and the indwelling power of the life, of Jesus Christ, is personal faith in Jesus Christ. To trust Him is to come to Him, and it is represented in Scripture as conferring an instantaneous fitness for access to God. People pray sometimes that they may be made ‘meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,’ and the prayer is, in a sense, wise and true. But they too often forget that the Apostle says, in the original connection of the words which they so quote: ‘He hath translated us from the tyranny of the darkness, and hath made us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.’ That is to say, whenever a poor soul, compassed and laden with its infirmity and sin, turns itself to that Lord whose Cross conquers sin, and whose blood infused into our veins-the Spirit of whose life granted to us-gives us to partake of His own righteousness, that moment that soul can tread the path that brings into the presence of God, and ‘has access with confidence by the faith of Him.’ So, brethren, seeing that thus the incapacity may all be swept away, and that instead of a ‘cannot,’ which relegates us to darkness, we may receive a ‘can’ which leads us into the light, let us see to it that this communion, which is possible for all Christian men, is real in our cases, and that we use the access which is given to us, and dwell for ever in, and with, the Lord.

I have said that the act of faith, by associating a man with Jesus Christ in the power of His death and of His life, makes any who exercise it capable of passing into the presence of God. But I would remind you, too, that to make us more fit for more full and habitual communion is the very purpose for which all the discipline of our earthly life, its sorrows and its joys, its tasks and its repose, is exercised upon us-’He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.’ Surely if we habitually took that point of view in reference to our work, in reference to our joys, in reference to our trials, everything would be different. We are being prepared with sedulous love, with patient reiteration of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept,’ with singularly varied methods but a uniform purpose, by all that meets us in life, to be more capable of treading the eternal path into the eternal light. Is that how we daily think of our own circumstances? Do we bring that great thought to bear upon all that we, sometimes faithlessly, call mysterious or murmuringly think of-if we dare not speak our thought-as being cruel and hard? What does it matter if some precious things be lifted off our shoulders, and out of our hearts, if their being taken away makes it more possible for us to tread with a lighter step the path of peace? What matters it though many things that we would fain keep are withdrawn from us, if by the withdrawal we are sent a little further forward on the road that leads to God? As George Herbert says, sorrows and joys are like battledores that drive a shuttlecock, and they may all ‘toss us to His breast.’ In faith, however infantile it may be, there is an undeveloped capacity, a germ of fitness, for dwelling with God. But that capacity is meant to be increased, and the little children are meant to be helped to grow up into full-grown men, ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,’ by all that comes here to them on earth. Do you not think we should understand life better, do you not think it would all be flashed up into new radiance, do you not think we should more seldom stand bewildered at what we choose to call the inscrutable dispensations of Providence, if this were the point of view from which we looked at them all-that they were fitting us for perpetual abiding with our Father God?

Nor let us forget that there was a transient ‘cannot’ of another sort. For ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.’ So, as life is changed when we think of it as helping us toward Him, death is changed when we think of it as being, if I may so say, the usher in attendance on the Presence-chamber, who draws back the thin curtain that separates us from the throne, and takes us by the hands and leads us into the Presence. Surely if we habitually thought thus of that otherwise grim chamberlain, we should be willing to put our hands into His, as a little child will, when straying, into the hands of a stranger who says, ‘Come with me and I will take you home to your father.’ ‘As I said unto the Jews . . . so now I say to you, whither I go, ye cannot come.’

Let us press on you and on myself the one thought that comes out of all that I have been saying, the blessed possibility, which, because it is a possibility, is an obligation, to use far more than most of us do, the right of access to the King who is our Father. There are nobles and corporate bodies, who regard it as one of their chief distinctions that they have always the right of entree to the court of the sovereign. Every Christian man has that. And in old days, when a baron did not show himself at court, suspicion naturally arose, and he was in danger of being thought disaffected, if not traitorous. Ah! if you and I were judged according to that law, what would become of us? We can go when we like. How seldom we do go! We can live in the heavens whilst our work lies down here. We prefer the low earth to the lofty sky. ‘We are come’-ideally, and in the depths of our nature, our affinities are there-’unto God, the Judge of all, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new Covenant.’ Are we come? Are we day by day, in all the pettiness of our ordinary lives, when compassed by hard duties, weighed upon by sore distress-still keeping our hearts in heaven, and our feet familiar with the path that leads us to God? ‘Set your affection on things above, where Jesus is, sitting at the right hand of God.’ For there is no ‘cannot’ for His servants in regard to their access to any place where He is.

John

SEEKING JESUS

John 13:33
.

In the former sermon on this verse I pointed out that it, in its fullness, applies only to the brief period between the crucifixion and the resurrection, but that, partly by contrast and partly by analogy, it suggests permanent relations between Christ and His disciples. These relations were mainly-as I pointed out then-two: there was that one expressed by the subsequent words of the verse, ‘Whither I go, ye cannot come’-a brief ‘cannot,’ soon to be changed into a permanent ‘can’; and there was a second, a brief, sad, and vain seeking, soon to be changed into a seeking which finds. It is to the latter that I wish to turn now.

‘Ye shall seek Me’ fell, like the clods on a coffin-lid, with a hollow sound on the hearts of the Apostles. It comes to us as a permission and a command and a promise. I do not dwell on that sad seeking, which was so brief but so bitter. We all know what it is to put out an empty hand into the darkness and the void, and to grope for a touch which we know, whilst we grope, that we shall not find. And these poor, helpless disciples, by their forlorn sense of separation, by their yearning that brought no satisfaction, by their very listless despair, were saying, during these hours of agony into which an eternity of pain was condensed, ‘Oh! that He were beside us again!’

That sad seeking ended when He came to them, and ‘then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.’ But another kind of seeking began, when ‘the cloud received Him out of their sight’; as joyful as the other was laden with sorrow, as sure to find the object of its quest as the other was certain to be disappointed. What He said in the darkness to them, He says in the light to us: What ‘I say unto you I say unto all,’ Seek! So now we have to deal with that joyful search which is sure of finding its object, and is only a little, if at all, less blessed than the finding itself.

I. Every Christian is, by his very name, a seeker after Christ.

There are two kinds of seeking, one like that of a bird whose young have been stolen away, which flutters here and there, because it knows not where that is which it seeks; another, like the flight of the same bird, when the migrating instinct rises in its little breast, and straight as an arrow it goes, not because it knows not its goal, but because it knows it, yonder where the sun is warm and the sky is blue, and winter is left behind in the cold north. ‘Ye shall seek Me’ is the word of promise, which changes the vain search that is ignorant of where the object of its quest is, into a blessed going out of the heart towards that which it knows to be the home of its homelessness. Thus the text brings out the very central blessedness and peculiarity of the Christian life, that it has no uncertainty in its aims, and that, instead of seeking for things which may or may not be found, or if found may or may not prove to be what we dreamt them to be. It seeks for a Person whom it knows where to find, and of whom it knows that all its desires will be met in Him. We have, then, on the one side the multifarious, divergent searchings of man; and on the other side the one quest in which all these others are gathered up, and translated into blessedness-the seeking after Jesus Christ.

Men know that they need, if I may so put it, four things: truth for the understanding, love round which the heart may coil, authority for the will which may direct and restrain, and energy for the practical life. But, apart from the quest after Christ, men for the most part seek these necessary goods in divers objects, and fragmentarily look for the completion of their desires. But fragments will never satisfy a man’s soul, and they who have to go to one place for truth, and to another for love, and to another for authority, and to another for energy, are wofully likely never to find what they search for. They are seeking in the manifold what can be found only in the One. It is as if some vessel, full of precious stones, were thrown down before men, and whilst they are racing after the diamonds, they lose the emeralds and the sapphires. But the wise concentrate their seekings on the ‘one Pearl of great price,’ in whom is truth for the brain, love for the heart, authority for the will, power for the life, and all summed in that which is more blessed than all, the Person of the Brother who died for us, the Christ who lives to fill our hearts for ever. One sun dims all the stars; and the ‘one entire and perfect Chrysolite’ beggars and reduces to fragments ‘all the precious things that thou canst desire.’

To seek Him is the very hall-mark of a Christian, and that seeking comes to be an earnest desire and effort after more conscious communion with Him, and a more entire possession of His imparted life which is righteousness and peace and joy and power. According to the Rabbis, the manna tasted to each man what each man most desired. The manifoldness of the one Christ is far more manifold than the manifoldness of the multiplicity of fragmentary and partial aims which foolish men perceive.

The ways of seeking are very plain. First of all, we seek if, and in proportion as, we make the effort to occupy our thoughts and minds, not with theological dogmas, but with the living Christ Himself. Ah! brethren, it is hard to do, and I daresay a great many of you are thinking that it is far harder for you, in the distractions and rush and conflict of business and daily life, than it is for people like me, whom you imagine as sitting in a study, with nothing to distract us. I do not know about that; I fancy it is about equally hard for us all; but it is possible. I have been in Alpine villages where, at the end of every squalid alley, there towered up a great, pure, silent, white peak. That is what our lives may be; however noisome, crowded, petty the little lane in which we live, the Alp is at the end of it there, if we only choose to lift our eyes and look. It is possible that not only ‘into the sessions of sweet silent thought,’ but into the rush and bustle of the workshop or the exchange, there may come, like ‘some sweet, beguiling melody, so sweet we know not we are listening to it,’ the thought that changes pettiness into greatness, that makes all things go smoothly and easily, that is a test and a charm to discover and to destroy temptation, the thought of a present Christ, the Lover of my soul, and the Helper of my life.

Again, we seek Him when, by aspiration and desire, we bring Him-as He is always brought thereby-into our hearts and into our lives. The measure of our desire is the measure of our possession. Wishing is the opening of our hearts, but, alas, often we wish and desire, and the heart opens and nothing enters. Wishes are like the tentacles of some marine organism waving about in a waste ocean, feeling for the food that they do not find. But if we open our hearts for Him, that is simultaneous with the coming of Him to us. ‘Ye have not, because ye ask not.’ Do not forget, dear friends, that desire, if it is genuine, will take a very concrete form and will be prayer. And it is prayer-by which I do not mean the utterance of words without desire, any more than I mean desire without the direct casting of it into the form of supplication-it is prayer that brings Christ into any, and it is prayer that will bring Him into every, life.

Nor let us forget that there is another way of seeking besides these two, of looking up to Him through, and in the midst of, all the shows and trifles of this low life, and the reaching out of our desires towards Him, as the roots of a tree beneath the soil go straight for the river. That other way is imitation and obedience. It is vain to think of Him, and it is unreal to pretend to desire Him, if we are not seeking Him by treading in the path that He has trod, and which leads to Him. Imitation and obedience-these are the steps by which we go straight through all the trivialities of life into the presence of the Lord Himself. The smallest deflection from the path that leads to Him will carry us away into doleful wastes. The least invisible cloud that steals across the sky will blot out half a hemisphere of stars; and we seek not Christ unless, thinking of Him, and desiring Him, we also walk in the path in which He has walked, and so come where He is. He Himself has said that if His servant follows Him, where He is there shall also His servant be. These things make up the seeking which ought to mark us all.

I note that-

II. The Christian seeker always finds.

I pointed out in my last sermon the strange identity of our Lord’s words to His humble friends, with those which on another occasion He used to His bitter enemies. He reminds the disciples of that identity in the verse from which my text comes: ‘As I said to the Jews . . . so now I say to you.’ But there was one thing that He said to the Jews that He did not say to them. To the former He said, ‘Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me’; and He did not say that-even for the sad hours it was not quite true-He did not say that to His followers, and He does not say it to us.

If we seek we shall find. There is no disappointment in the Christian life. Anything is possible rather than that a man should desire Christ and not have Him. That has never been the experience of any seeking soul. And so I urge upon you what has already been suggested, that inasmuch as, by reason of His infinite longing to give truth and love and guidance and energy and His whole Self, to all of us, the amount of our possession of the power and life of Jesus Christ depends on ourselves. If you take to the fountain a tiny cup, you will only bring away a tiny cupful. If you take a great vessel you will bring it away full. As long as the woman in the old story held out her vessels to the miraculous flow of the oil, the flow continued. When she had no more vessels to take, the flow stopped. If a man holds a flagon beneath a spigot with an unsteady hand, half of the precious liquor will be spilt on the ground. Those who fulfil the conditions, of which I have already been speaking, may make quite sure that according to their faith will it be unto them. And if you, dear friend, have not in your experience the conscious presence of a Christ who is all that you need, there is no one in heaven or earth or hell to blame for it but only your own self. ‘I have never said to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye My face in vain’; and when the Lord said, ‘Ye shall seek Me,’ He was implicitly binding Himself to meet the seeking soul, and give Himself to the desiring heart.

Remember, too, that this seeking, which is always crowned with finding, is the only search in which failure is impossible. There is only one course of life that has no disappointments. We all know how frequently we are foiled in our quests; we all know how often a prize won is a bitterer disappointment than a prize unattained. Like a jelly-fish in the water, as long as it is there its tenuous substance is lovely, expanded, tinged with delicate violets and blues, and its long filaments float in lines of beauty. Lay it on the beach, and it is a shapeless lump, and it poisons and stings. You fish your prize out of the great ocean, and when you have it, does it disappoint, or does it fulfil, the raised expectations of the quest? There is One who does not disappoint. There is one gold mine that comes up to the prospectus. There is one spring that never runs dry. The more deep our Christian experience is, the more we shall take the rapturous exclamation of the Arabian queen to ourselves: ‘The half was not told us!’

And so, lastly, I suggest that-

III. The finding impels to fresh seeking.

The object of the Christian man’s quest is Jesus Christ. He is Incarnate Infinitude; and that cannot be exhausted. The seeker after Jesus Christ is the Christian soul. That soul is the incarnate possibility of indefinite expansion and approximation and assimilation; and that cannot be exhausted. And so, with a Christ who is infinite, and a seeker whose capacities may be indefinitely expanded, there can be no satiety, there can be no limit, there can be no end to the process. This wine-skin will not burst when the new wine is put into it. Rather like some elastic vessel, as you pour it will fill out and expand. Possession enlarges, and the more of Christ’s fullness is poured into a human heart, the more is that heart widened out to receive a greater blessing.

Dear brethren, there is one course of life, and I believe but one, on which we may all enter with the sure confidence that in the nature of things, in the nature of Christ, and in the nature of ourselves, there is no end to growth and progress. Think of the freshness and blessedness and energy that puts into a life. To have an unattained and unattainable object, a goal to which we can never come, but to which we may ever be approximating, seems to me to be the secret of perpetual joy and of perpetual youthfulness. To say, ‘forgetting the things that are behind, I reach forward unto the things that are before,’ is a charm and an amulet that repels monotony and weariness, and goes with a man to the very end, and when all other aims and objects have died down into grey ashes, that flame, like the fabled lamp in Virgil’s tomb, burns clear in the grave, and lights us to the eternity beyond.

For certainly, if there be neither satiety nor limit to Christian progress here, there can be no better and stronger evidence that Christian progress here is but the first ‘lap’ of the race, the first stadium of the course, and that beyond that narrow, dark line which lies across the path, it runs on, rising higher, and will run on for ever.

‘On earth the broken arc; in heaven the perfect round.’

Seek for what you are sure to find; seek for what will never disappoint you; seek for what will abide with you for ever. The very first word of Christ’s recorded in Scripture is a question which He puts to us all: ‘What seek ye?’ Well for us, if like the two to whom it was originally addressed, we answer, ‘We are not seeking a What; we are seeking a Whom.-Master, where dwellest Thou?’ And if we have that answer in our hearts, we shall receive the invitation which they received, ‘Come and see,’-come and seek. ‘Ye shall seek Me’ is a gracious invitation, an imperative command, and a faithful promise that if we seek we shall find. ‘Whoso findeth Him findeth life; whoso misseth Him’-whatever else he has sought and found-’wrongeth his own soul.’John 13:33-34. Little children — An expression intended to signify both their weakness and his tenderness and compassion; as if he had said, Ye whom I love with parental tenderness, and whom my heart pities under all your trials and sorrows; yet a little while, &c. — That is, It is but a very little while longer that I am to continue with you: a few hours more will part us; and ye shall seek me — Shall wish for my presence and converse when I am gone; and as I said to the Jews, (see John 7:34; John 8:21,) Whither I go ye cannot come — Not yet, being not yet prepared for it. A new commandment — As if he had said, But observe my parting words, and let them be written on your very hearts; for I give you what I may properly call a new commandment, enjoining a higher degree of mutual love than has generally been possessed and manifested among pious people to each other; a command which I press upon you by new motives, and a new example, and which from henceforth I would have you to consider as confirmed by a new sanction, and to keep ever fresh in your memories. The expression, which, says Dr. Doddridge, “signifies much more than merely a renewed command, is a strong and lively intimation, that the engagements to mutual love, peculiar in the Christian dispensation, are so singular and so cogent, that all other men, when compared with its votaries, may seem uninstructed in the school of friendship, and Jesus may appear, as it were, the first professor of that divine science.” “He called this a new commandment,” observes Dr. Macknight, “not because mutual love had never been enjoined on mankind before, but because it was a precept of peculiar excellence, for the word new in the Hebrew language [often] denotes excellence and truth, as appears from Psalm 33:3; Mark 1:27; Revelation 2:17; and because they were to exercise it under a new relation, according to a new measure, and from new motives. They were to love one another in the relation of his disciples, and with that degree of love which he had shown to them, for they were to lay down their lives for the brethren, 1 John 3:16. Withal they were to love from the consideration of his love, and in order to prove themselves his genuine disciples, by the warmth of their mutual affection.” So also Dr. Campbell: “Our Lord, by this, warns his disciples against taking for their model any example of affection whereunto the age could furnish them; or, indeed, any example less than the love which he all along, especially in his death, manifested for them.”13:31-35 Christ had been glorified in many miracles he wrought, yet he speaks of his being glorified now in his sufferings, as if that were more than all his other glories in his humbled state. Satisfaction was thereby made for the wrong done to God by the sin of man. We cannot now follow our Lord to his heavenly happiness, but if we truly believe in him, we shall follow him hereafter; meanwhile we must wait his time, and do his work. Before Christ left the disciples, he would give them a new commandment. They were to love each other for Christ's sake, and according to his example, seeking what might benefit others, and promoting the cause of the gospel, as one body, animated by one soul. But this commandment still appears new to many professors. Men in general notice any of Christ's words rather than these. By this it appears, that if the followers of Christ do not show love one to another, they give cause to suspect their sincerity.Little children - An expression of great tenderness, denoting his deep interest in their welfare. As he was about to leave them, he endeavors to mitigate their grief by the most tender expressions of attachment, showing that he felt for them the deep interest in their welfare which a parent feels for his children. The word "children" is often given to Christians as implying:

1. that God is their Father, and that they sustain toward him that endearing relation, Romans 8:14-15.

2. as denoting their need of teaching and guidance, as children need the aid and counsel of a father. See the corresponding term "babes" used in 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Peter 2:2.

3. It is used, as it is here, as an expression of tenderness and affection. See Galatians 4:19; 1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:12, 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:7, 1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21.

Yet a little while I am with you - He did not conceal the fact that he was soon to leave them. There is something exceedingly tender in this address. It shows that he loved them to the end; that as their friend and guide, as a man, he felt deeply at the thoughts of parting from them, and leaving them to a cold and unfeeling world. A parting scene at death is always one of tenderness; and it is well when, like this, there is the presence of the Savior to break the agony of the parting pang, and to console us with the words of his grace.

As I said unto the Jews - See John 7:34.

So now I say to you - That is, they could not follow him then, John 13:36; John 14:2. He was about to die and return to God, and for a time they must be willing to be separated from him. But he consoled them John 13:36 with the assurance that the separation would be only temporary, and that they should afterward follow him.

33-35. Little children—From the height of His own glory He now descends, with sweet pity, to His "little children," all now His own. This term of endearment, nowhere else used in the Gospels, and once only employed by Paul (Ga 4:19), is appropriated by the beloved disciple himself, who no fewer than seven times employs it in his first Epistle.

Ye shall seek me—feel the want of Me.

as I said to the Jews—(Joh 7:34; 8:21). But oh in what a different sense!

Our Saviour’s time of death being very nigh, (for it was the next day), he begins to speak of it to his disciples more freely and plainly, and to let them know that he, though now dying, bare a fatherly tender affection to them: he calls them little children. Parents have a natural affection to their children; a more tender affection to their children when little, because in their tender age they are more ignorant, and unable to provide for themselves. We find this compellation used by Christ’s apostles, Galatians 4:19 1Jo 2:1,28. And he tells them, that he had but now a little time to be with them before his death, and not long after his resurrection; in which, too, his converse was not such with them as it hitherto had been.

Whither I go, ye cannot come; he told this to the Jews in John 7:31, and now he tells them the same, that they would miss him when he was gone, and should seek him; but even the disciples at present could not follow him to heaven, whither he was going. The unbelieving Jews should never follow him thither, but even those who were his disciples, who were born again, and whom he loved as little children are beloved by their parents, should not yet follow him; his work in the world was done, but they had yet a great deal of work in it to do. Little children, yet a little while I am with you,.... Christ having removed the scandal of his death, by observing, that both he and his Father would be glorified by it, begins more freely to open his mind to his disciples, and acquaint them with it; whom he addresses in the most kind, tender, and affectionate manner, "little children", expressing the relation which subsisted between them, of which he was not unmindful; his great affection for them, his consideration of their weakness, and sympathy with them on that account; who were very ill able to bear his departure, which he now thought high time to acquaint them with, that it would be very shortly: it was but a little while he was to be with them, a few days more; the time of his departure was at hand, his hour was as it were come, and the last sands were dropping:

ye shall seek me; as persons in distress, under great concern, not knowing what to do, or where to go:

and as I said unto the Jews, John 7:33;

whither I go ye cannot come, so now I say unto you; but with this difference, whereas the unbelieving Jews, who died in their sins, could never come whither he went, these his disciples, though they could not come now, yet they should hereafter, all of them, as well as Peter, John 13:36.

{4} Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.

(4) The eternal glory will flow little by little from the head into the members. But meanwhile, we must take good heed that we run the race of this life in brotherly love.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 13:33. The εὐθύς changes—when He glances at His loved ones, whom He is to leave behind

His mood, which but now was that of victory, again into one of softness and emotion. Here, in the first place, the tender τεκνία (comp. John 21:5) with all the intensity of departing love.

μικρόν] Accusat. neut. Comp. John 14:16, John 16:19; Hebrews 10:37; LXX. Job 36:2; Sap. John 15:8, et al.

ζητήσετε] the seeking of faith and love in distress, in temptation, etc.

καὶ καθὼς, κ.τ.λ.] and as I have said, … say I now also to you.[133]

τ. Ἰουδ.] to these, however, with a penal reference, John 7:34, John 8:21; John 8:24, and with the threatening addition, κ. οὐχ εὑρήσετε. And for the disciples the οὐ δύνασθε ἐλθεῖν is intended only of the temporal impossibility. See John 14:2-3.

ἄρτι] emphatically at the end, as in John 13:7; John 13:37; John 16:12. He could no longer spare them the announcement.

[133] Luther incorrectly begins a new sentence with καὶ ὑμῖν (“and I say to you now: a new commandment,” etc.). Ebrard’s rendering is also quite erroneous.John 13:33. This result was to be forthwith achieved: εὐθὺς δοξάσει αὐτόν, which at once is interpreted to the discipies in the explicit statement Τεκνία, ἔτι μικρὸν μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι. Τεκνία is frequent in 1 John; here only in the Gospel. Lightfoot (p. 1098) says: “Discipulus cujusvis vocatur ejus filius”; but here there is a tenderness in the expression not so accounted for. ἔτι μικρὸν, “yet a little,” i.e., it is only for a little longer; cf. John 7:33. This announcement, formerly made to the Jews (John 7:33, John 8:21; John 8:24), He now, ἄρτι, makes to the disciples; arousing their attention to what follows, as His last injunctions. In view of the temper they had that evening displayed and the necessity for united action and unanimous testimony He first lays upon them the commandment to love one another.33. Little children] Nowhere else in the Gospels does Christ use this expression of tender affection (teknia), which springs from the thought of His orphaned disciples. S. John appears never to have forgotten it. It occurs frequently in his First Epistle (1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:12; 1 John 2:28, John 3:7; John 3:18, John 4:4, John 5:21), and perhaps nowhere else in the N.T. In Galatians 4:19 the reading is doubtful. ‘Children’ in John 21:5 is a different word (paidia).

a little while] See on John 7:33-34, John 8:21.

Ye shall seek me] Christ does not add, as He did to the Jews, ‘and shall not find Me,’ still less: ‘ye shall die in your sin.’ Rather, ‘ye shall seek Me: and though ye cannot come whither I go, yet ye shall find Me by continuing to be My disciples and loving one another.’ The expression ‘the Jews’ is rare in Christ’s discourses; comp. John 4:22, John 18:20; John 18:36.John 13:33. Τέκνια, little children) In this passage, when putting forward the precept of love, He for the first time so calls them. Comp. ch. John 21:5.[339]—τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις, unto the Jews) In this one passage alone, when speaking with the disciples, He calls them Jews, never on any other occasion, except to the Samaritan woman, to Caiaphas, and to Pilate, once only to each of these persons; ch. John 4:22; John 18:20; John 18:36. Also in chapters 14–17. He never uses the appellation, Jews or Israel.—ζητήσετέ με, ye shall seek Me) He does not add, ye shall not find Me [as He did to the Jews].—οὐ δύνασθε, ye cannot) They were not as yet matured enough for that: John 13:36, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.”—ἄρτι, now) He was unwilling to say this to the disciples sooner: whereas to unbelievers He said it sooner [at an earlier period].

[339] After the resurrection at the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus, when not yet recognised by the disciples, addresses them with the appellation, which might have reminded them of His love, “Children, have ye any meat?”—E. and T.Verse 33. - This is the first and only time, in the Gospels that the tender word, little children, is used by the Lord (but compare παιδία of John 21:5, and the repeated adoption by John himself in 1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 1 John 3:7, 18; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21; and τέκνα in Mark 10:24). The adoption of the gentle love-word is appropriate as a link to the new commandment, and reveals the love of departure, the tender love that wells up in his heart, as he contemplates the orphan-like and bereft condition of his disciples. A little while am I still with you. Ye shall seek me in the way of sympathetic love and vivid realization of my spiritual and real presence; and as I said ante the Jews (a term that Christ used in this place only when speaking to his disciples, though he had made use of it to the Samaritans, and would use it to Caiaphas and Pilate), in John 7:33, 34, and John 8:21; but there and then he added, "Ye will not find me," because they would only seek him in carnal ideas and angry disappointment. Observe, he does not here repeat this consequence of the search, because ultimately these disciples would not only seek, but follow and find; nevertheless, he adds: As I said to the Jews, Whither I go, you are not able to come; so at this time I say to you. There are two words used for "now" - νῦν denotes absolutely the present moment; ἄρτι (John 9:19, 25, etc.) denotes here and there, a period distinct from past and future, and yet related to both. The time is not yet come for you to enter into my glory; you cannot yet come, you have to continue my earthly ministry, to prolong the testimony which I have given concerning God, and which God has given concerning me. The time will come when "I will receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also;" but now he prays, "though I am no more in this world, these are in the world holy Father, keep them" (John 17:11). Little children (τεκνία)

Diminutive, occurring only here in the Gospel, but repeatedly in the First Epistle. Nowhere else in the New Testament.

Now (ἄρτι)

In John 13:31, now is νῦν, which marks the point of time absolutely. Ἄρτι marks the point of time as related to the past or to the future. Thus, "from the days of John the Baptist until now" (ἄρτι, Matthew 11:12). "Thinkest thou that I cannot now (ἄρτι) pray to my Father?" though succor has been delayed all along till now (Matthew 26:53). Here the word implies that the sorrowful announcement of Jesus' departure from His disciples had been withheld until the present. The time was now come.

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