“I have overcome the world,” Jesus said. What does this mean?
The word “overcome” in Greek is:
3528 nikáō (from 3529 /níkē, “victory”) – conquer 3529 níkē (a feminine noun) – conquest; a particular expression of victory, resulting from receiving (obeying) the faith Christ imparts (i.e. His inworked persuasion).
It is used elsewhere in the Bible as “to win the case” (like in a court of law), “maintain one’s cause,” to “deprive of the power to harm,” to “subvert influence,” or “force which resides in goodness, i. e. in kindness, to cause an enemy to repent of the wrong he has done one.” (Strong’s) In order to understand the meaning behind Jesus’ words, let’s look at the context. I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase John 15-16. If you would rather read it for yourself, click here.
The Disciples Were “Pruned” by the Words of Christ
Jesus compared himself to a vine and said His Father was the farmer who trims the parts of the vine that aren’t producing fruit. Jesus then tells the disciples that they have already been pruned by His words and reminds them that in order to bear fruit, they need to stay connected to Him and His love. Jesus contrasts an employee/employer relationship with a friendship, and tells His disciples that they are friends. They aren’t like employees who don’t know what the boss is planning; they understand the heart of the Father.
Selfless Love is a Threat to Those Who Don’t Understand Who the Father Is
He reminds them to love, above all else. Regarding love, Jesus explains that the best way to demonstrate love is to place more importance on the lives of others than one’s own life. This kind of selfless love is threatening in a system that values power and control by force. The disciples would eventually find themselves hated by others, Jesus warned. Those who hated Christ would also hate those Christ chose to bear His fruit (be like Him). The source of this hatred was a misunderstanding of Who the Father is — if they hated the character of Christ, then by default, they hated the Father as well.
Why Understanding the Character of God Really Matters
The Spirit of Truth, Jesus said, would come from the Father and confirm in their hearts everything Jesus had said and done. The disciples’ lives would further evidence the connection between the Father, the Son, and themselves. Because of this, times would get rough, Jesus warned. Specifically, the disciples would be rejected by the priests and elders in the religious community. The irony of the situation would be that these people in positions of authority would actually believe they were doing the right thing. The reason they would act this way was that they never really understood Who the Father is or Who Christ is. Jesus was telling the disciples, get ready for the s*%# to hit the fan, boys.
The Spirit of Truth Will Convince the World
Jesus had kept this information to Himself, because He was with the disciples day in and day out, but circumstances were about to change. Jesus would be leaving them, and in His place, the Spirit of Truth would be with the disciples. The Spirit of Truth would eventually convince the world, with solid, compelling evidence, of what is right and just, and people would realize that they had missed the mark when they were not persuaded that Jesus came from above. Ultimately, the person who had held the highest position of power and influence, who had possessed the greatest opportunity to do what was just and right but did not, will stand out like a sore thumb.
The Spirit of Truth Will Reveal the Character of Christ
Jesus had much more to say, but people were not ready to digest the information. Plus, Jesus wasn’t going to be around to deliver it. So Jesus left the rest of the teaching and sense-making to the Spirit of Truth, Who would reveal it a little at a time. The concepts that the Spirit of Truth would teach would bring honor to Jesus, because they would reveal His character.
Like Giving Birth
The disciples were full of questions. They felt like Jesus should just plainly tell them what was going on. Jesus compared the things that were about to happen to a woman giving birth. Things were about to get painful, like labor contractions, but something amazing would come from the experience, something that would more than make up for any suffering.
What They Didn’t Want to Hear
The relationship Jesus had with the Father put Him in a special position to make requests of the Father on behalf of the disciples. Jesus told the disciples that soon, they would bring their own requests directly. With a sense of relief, the disciples were glad to hear Jesus speak plainly. But things turned dark again when Jesus kept speaking plainly, telling them things they didn’t want to hear. “Right now, you are persuaded, but soon you will all abandon me,” Jesus said. Why did He tell them this?
Tremendous Internal Pressure
Jesus told them all this so that, in Him, they could have a sense of peace. But how? He concluded the conversation with them by reminding them that they would, within the system, feel tremendous internal pressure. But His promise would give them an unflinching sense of confidence: “I have overcome the system.” In summary, the disciples were already pruned by the words of Jesus. In order to bear fruit, they needed to tap into the Source of superhuman love. The selfless love of Jesus, the Image of the Father, would be viewed as a threat to anyone who does not understand the Father, specifically, priests and elders in the religious community. In light of all this, Jesus offered words of comfort to the disciples about the Spirit of Truth confirming and revealing the character of Christ to the world. The process would be like labor pains before birth. The disciples would abandon Jesus as a result of tremendous internal pressure, but eventually they would realize Jesus overcame the system, and this would give them an unflinching sense of confidence. Now back to the original question.
“I have overcome the world,” Jesus said. What does this mean?
The word “overcome” can mean conquer, win, maintain one’s cause, deprive of power to harm, subvert influence, or a force of goodness that causes repentance. Jesus used the word in reference to what He does with the system of hate fueled by ignorance about the true character of God. In my opinion, Jesus is using the word overcome in a very broad sense. What many believers don’t realize, though, is that the word has particular significance that differs from the traditional interpretation. Most people read, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” and assume that Jesus is talking about persecution. While this may be true, Jesus is not talking exclusively about persecution that comes from haters. There’s another kind of trouble that is much worse than persecution. It is a trouble that comes from within. For example, Jesus said, “…if me they did persecute, you also they will persecute.” The word “persecute” refers to an external form of pressure. One can only feel persecuted if there are others who, like hunter to prey, are doing the persecuting. In contrast, Jesus also said, “…in me ye may have peace, in the world ye shall have tribulation…” The word “tribulation” refers to an internal form of pressure. One can only feel tribulation if one believes there are no options left or there is no way of escape. Notice also that Jesus contrasts:
- in Jesus = peace
- in the system = tribulation
When Jesus began His conversation with the disciples, He emphasized remaining in Him, remaining in His love, and understanding the character of the Father. Persecution, in and of itself, is not why the disciples abandoned Jesus. How they viewed persecution played a bigger part. They felt like they had no options left, that there was no way of escape from the troubles. The disciples were in the system, and the system was not designed to assimilate radical ideas like the selfless love Christ taught. The system was based on an entirely different view of the Father than the Image of the Father Christ portrayed. If Christ were permitted to continue to influence the disciples and others, the system would be overcome, and those within the system would lose their influence and their positions of power. So the people in the system turned to Christ as the disciples like hunters to prey. The disciples did not have peace, because they did not remain in Him and in His love. They abandoned Him because they believed they had no options left or no way to escape. The internal pressure manifested itself in a physical reaction — flight. The fight or flight instinct is very strong, and Jesus made it perfectly clear that there would be no physical fight when He told Peter, “Put your sword away…” They understood the Father to a point, but they had not yet given up the idea that overcoming the world had nothing to do with power and control by force rooted in hatred. But there is a kind of fight that conquers, wins, maintain one’s cause, and subverts influence. Selfless love is a force of goodness that causes repentance. As Christ fills all things, the system is increasingly deprived of the power to harm. Eventually Christ will become all in all, and the system will be brought into complete submission to Him and His love. The reason Christ could tell the disciples “I have overcome,” (perfect, indicative, active tense) is that His act of obedience, His drinking of the cup of suffering, was the most crippling blow to hatred the world had ever known or will ever know. He started a work that day that would continue until it was fully accomplished. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Soul force is a form of peace that both transcends persecution and tribulation. It is an overcoming power rooted in love that stands in defiance of the system, regardless of consequences, which are more often emotional or financial than physical. Let’s gain an unflinching sense of confidence over all forms of hatred and corrupt power with the knowledge that although we are in the system, we are contained within a sphere of reality that is set apart from the illusion that evil wins. He has overcome the system.