What does it mean that Jesus has overcome the world?

by Mike Ratliff

33 ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐν ἐμοὶ εἰρήνην ἔχητε. ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ θλῖψιν ἔχετε· ἀλλὰ θαρσεῖτε, ἐγὼ νενίκηκα τὸν κόσμον. (John 16:33 NA28)

33 These things I have spoken to you that in Me you have peace. In the world you have affliction, but be cheerful, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

God is Sovereign and Jesus Christ, the son of man, is the Son of God. Our Lord came to reveal the Father and through His perfect life become the propitiation for those He came to save. Through His death, as He willingly laid His life down, He purchased a people for Himself who are all those who believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are justified by grace through faith alone as a gift from God. These are given to the Son by God the Father. Those of us who remain alive in this world who are part of His Church often wonder why we were left here in this evil place. Sadly, many professing Christians are quite at home here. 

25 Ταῦτα ἐν παροιμίαις λελάληκα ὑμῖν· ἔρχεται ὥρα ὅτε οὐκέτι ἐν παροιμίαις λαλήσω ὑμῖν, ἀλλὰ παρρησίᾳ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ἀπαγγελῶ ὑμῖν. 26 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου αἰτήσεσθε, καὶ οὐ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἐρωτήσω τὸν πατέρα περὶ ὑμῶν· 27 αὐτὸς γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ φιλεῖ ὑμᾶς, ὅτι ὑμεῖς ἐμὲ πεφιλήκατε καὶ πεπιστεύκατε ὅτι ἐγὼ παρὰ [τοῦ] θεοῦ ἐξῆλθον. 28 ἐξῆλθον παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ ἐλήλυθα εἰς τὸν κόσμον· πάλιν ἀφίημι τὸν κόσμον καὶ πορεύομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα.
29 Λέγουσιν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ· ἴδε νῦν ἐν παρρησίᾳ λαλεῖς καὶ παροιμίαν οὐδεμίαν λέγεις. 30 νῦν οἴδαμεν ὅτι οἶδας πάντα καὶ οὐ χρείαν ἔχεις ἵνα τίς σε ἐρωτᾷ· ἐν τούτῳ πιστεύομεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθες. 31 ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς· ἄρτι πιστεύετε; 32 ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ ἐλήλυθεν ἵνα σκορπισθῆτε ἕκαστος εἰς τὰ ἴδια κἀμὲ μόνον ἀφῆτε· καὶ οὐκ εἰμὶ μόνος, ὅτι ὁ πατὴρ μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐστιν. 33 ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐν ἐμοὶ εἰρήνην ἔχητε. ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ θλῖψιν ἔχετε· ἀλλὰ θαρσεῖτε, ἐγὼ νενίκηκα τὸν κόσμον. (John 16:25-33 NA28)

25 “I have spoken these things to you in similitudes. An hour comes when I will no longer speak to you in similitudes, but I will proclaim to you plainly concerning the Father. 26 On that day, you will ask in my name and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father concerning you 27 for the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from God. 28 I came from the Father. I have come into the world again I leave the world and go to the Father.”
29 The disciples said of Him, “See, now in plainness you speak and no longer in similitudes do you speak. 30 Now we know that you know all things and you have no need that anyone questions you. By this we believe that you came forth from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Now do you believe? 32 Look, an hour is coming and has come that you are scattered each one to his own and you leave me alone and I am not alone because the Father is with Me. 33 These things I have spoken to you that in Me you have peace. In the world you have affliction, but be cheerful, I have overcome the world.” (John 6:25-33 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The hour our Lord spoke of here is the time after His resurrection and before His ascension when He spent those precious few days with His Apostles explaining to them much directly the meaning of all that He had done. Remember how He opened the hearts of those disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and then later as He stood among them He “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

The scattering of these disciples happened at our Lord’s arrest. They were still operating in the flesh, but look at the difference after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts!

What does it mean that Jesus has overcome the world? The words “have overcome” translates νενίκηκα the Perfect Tense, Indicative Mood, Active Voice form of νικάω or nikaō, “to conquer, overcome, vanquish, subdue, to be victorious.” This verb structure is very special. It is the indicative mood that the special meaning and temporal significance of the perfect tense is at its height. However, the context of the Greek may emphasize either the completeness of the action or the finished results. My brethren, in this passage our Lord speaks of our tribulation, which could involve persecution because of our testimony for Christ. However, in our Lord’s overwhelming and complete victory in which He has overcome the world is the fundamental ground for our endurance through these trials. Through Jesus’ death, He rendered the world’s opposition null and void. While the world continues to attack His people, these attacks always fail for our Lord’s victory has already accomplished a complete defeat of the whole evil, rebellious system.

Therefore, how can we be partakers of this evil world system? All that will do is rob us of our joy because the only way can we operate within the world system is via the flesh. Our part is to be salt and light within it. We are strangers and aliens here, not citizens in this evil place. Those who preach that the Church’s role is to redeem the world for Christ are misapplying Sacred Scripture by taking how Christians individually should behave as we walk through our days and applying that to the local Church. The local Church’s role is simply to be that place of sanctuary for us to come together as local expressions of the Body of Christ to fellowship, worship, take Communion, hear the Word of God rightly divided, and be edified through it all. Any other application is out of scope from what is taught in Scripture.

Those of us in Christ are to continue in this as we await the return of our Lord who has promised to return for those who are His. Come soon Lord Jesus!

Soli Deo Gloria!