Early Church Fathers
John XIII. 33.
1. It becomes us, dearly beloved, to keep in view the orderly connection of our Lord's words. For after having previously said, but subsequently to Judas' departure, and his separation from even the outward communion of the saints, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him;"-whether He said so as pointing to His future kingdom, when the wicked shall be separated from the good, or that His resurrection was then to take place, that is, was not to be delayed, like ours, till the end of the world;-and having then added, "If God is glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him," whereby without any ambiguity He testified to the immediate fulfillment of His own resurrection; He proceeded to say, "Little children, yet a little while I am with you." To keep them, therefore, from thinking that God was to glorify Him in such a way that He would never again be joined with them in earthly intercourse, He said, "Yet a little while I am with you:" as if He had said, Straightway indeed I shall be glorified in my resurrection; and yet I am not straightway to ascend into heaven, but "yet a little while I am with you." For, as we find it written in the Acts of the Apostles, He spent forty days with them after His resurrection, going in and out, and eating and drinking:1 not indeed that He had any experience of hunger and thirst, but even by such evidences confirmed the reality of His flesh, which no longer needed, but still possessed the power, to eat and to drink. Was it, then, these forty days He had in view when He said, "Yet a little while I am with you," or something else? For it may also be understood in this way: "Yet a little while I am with you;" still, like you, I also am in this state of fleshly infirmity, that is, till He should die and rise again: for after He rose again He was with them, as has been said, for forty days in the full manifestation of His bodily presence; but He was no longer with them in the fellowship of human infirmity.
2. There is also another form of His divine presence unknown to mortal senses, of which He likewise says, "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world."2 This, at least, is not the same as "yet a little while I am with you;" for it is not a little while until the end of the world. Or if even this is so (for time flies, and a thousand years are in God's sight as one day, or as a watch in the night,)3 yet we cannot believe that He intended any such meaning on this occasion, especially as He went on to say, "Ye shall seek me, and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come." That is to say, after this little while that I am with you, "ye shall seek me, and whither I go, ye cannot come." Is it after the end of the world that, whither He goes, they will not be able to come? And where, then, is the place of which He is going to say a little after in this same discourse, "Father, I will that they also be with me where I am "?4 It was not then of that presence of His with His own which He is maintaining with them till the end of the world that He now spake, when He said, "Yet a little while I am with you;" but either of that state of mortal infirmity in which He dwelt with them till His passion, or of that bodily presence which He was to maintain with them up till His ascension. Whichever of these any one prefers, he can do so without being at variance with the faith.
3. That no one, however, may deem that sense inconsistent with the true one, in which we say that the Lord may have meant the communion of mortal flesh which He held with the disciples till His passion, when He said, "Yet a little while I am with you;" let those words also of His after His resurrection, as found in another evangelist, be taken into consideration, when He said, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you:"5 as if then He was no longer with them, even at the very time that they were standing by, seeing, touching, and talking with Him. What does He mean, then, by saying, "while I was yet with you," but, while I was yet in that state of mortal flesh wherein ye still remain? For then, indeed, He had been raised again in the same flesh; but He was no longer associated with them in the same mortality. And accordingly, as on that occasion, when now clothed in fleshly immortality, He said with truth, "while I was yet with you," to which we can attach no other meaning than, while I was yet with you in fleshly mortality; so here also, without any absurdity, we may understand His words, "Yet a little while I am with you," as if He had said, Yet a little while I am mortal like yourselves. Let us look, then, at the words that follow.
4. "Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so say I to you now." That is, ye cannot come now. But when He said so to the Jews, He did not add the "now."6 The former, therefore, were not able at that time to come where He was going, but they were so afterwards; because He says so a little afterwards in the plainest terms to the Apostle Peter. For, on the latter inquiring, "Lord, whither goest Thou?" He replied to him, "Whither I go thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards" (ver. 36). But what it means is not to be carelessly passed over. For whither was it that the disciples could not then follow the Lord, but were able afterwards? If we say, to death, what time can be discovered when any one of the sons of men will find it impossible to die; since such, in this perishable body, is the lot of man, that therein life is not a whit easier than death? They were not, therefore, at that time less able to follow the Lord to death, but they were less able to follow Him to the life which is deathless. For thither it was the Lord was going, that, rising from the dead, He should die no more, and death should no more have dominion over Him.7 For as the Lord was about to die for righteousness' sake, how could they have followed Him now, who were as yet unripe for the ordeal of martyrdom? Or, with the Lord about to enter the fleshly immortality, how could they have followed Him now, when, even though ready to die, they would have no resurrection till the end of the world? Or, on the point of going, as the Lord was, to the bosom of the Father, and that without any forsaking of them, just as He had never quitted that bosom in coming to them, how could they have followed Him now, since no one can enter on that state of felicity but he that is made perfect in love? And to show them, therefore, how it is that they may attain the fitness to proceed, where He was going before them, He says, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another" (ver. 34). These are the steps whereby Christ must be followed; but any fuller discourse thereon must be put off till another opportunity.