16 "A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father."
17 Then some of His disciples said among themselves, "What is this that He says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, 'because I go to the Father'?"
18 They said therefore, "What is this that He says, 'A little while'? We do not know what He is saying."
19 Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'?
20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.
21 A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
not see (v. 16) = not see with the physical eye
will see (v. 16) = perceive with spiritual vision
lament (v. 20) = wail, like hired mourners at a funeral (Mark 5:38; Luke 23:27)
weep (v. 20) = external expression of grief
sorrow (v. 20) = inward feeling of the heart
The disciples would do all of these (lament, weep, sorrow) because of Christ's death (Mark 16:10; Luke 24:17)
sorrow turned to joy (v. 20) — The reason for their sorrow — His death — would become the reason for their joy by the work of the Spirit (Galatians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
Verse 21 repeats verse 20 in figurative language. The reason for the woman's sorrow and travail — birth — becomes the reason for her joy. So we must suffer with Christ before we know joy (Romans 8:17).
Probably, in less than two hours after He said this, Christ was arrested. He was put to death, and they sorrowed for a little while (three days). He returned for a little while, then ascended to heaven. They saw Him no more, but this time they didn't lose sight of Him spiritually and they had joy — especially after the Spirit came.
The disciples thought the Messiah would stay on earth. They didn't understand Him saying that He was going to the Father. But they should have (Psalms 68:18; Psalms 110:1).