What Jesus means by 'the world'
Understanding what Jesus means by "the world" is the key to understanding this verse.
Many read this as though "the world" means the people of the world - as though Jesus is talking about conquering the people of this world like some sort of conquering emperor like Alexander or many others over the centuries who have sought to conquer nations and peoples.
But this is not what Jesus is referring to here.
The "world" is being translated from the Greek word κόσμος (kosmos), which can certainly be translated to "world" but this is a superficial translation. According to Thayer's lexicon, the word can also refer to "world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly - the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire;" and "the ungodly multitude, the whole mass of men alienated from God."
This meaning still exists in the English language today, as people often use the term "worldly things" to describe materialism.
In other words, Jesus is not referring to conquering the people of the world as in ruling over them. He is talking about conquering materialism - the self-centered world of the physical body and its various illusions.
The physical world may be a real place, but it is full of illusions. The first illusion is that we think we are these physical bodies. The physical body is a shell - a temporary vehicle each of us - the spirit-person - drives for a few decades. At the time of death, we each leave these physical bodies. This has been proven scientifically in hundreds of thousands of clinical death cases where the person revived tells of leaving their body and watching their body from above, and witnessing things that only a person who has left their body could have witnessed.
But the illusion of this world is that we feel that we are these bodies. It is like a car driver thinking he is the car. This illusion causes so many erroneous contemplations as we seek happiness within the physical world. We try to satisfy these bodies in so many ways. And even if they are well-fed and perfectly taken care of, we still are not satisfied. This is because we are not the physical body.
It is like a hungry car driver thinking that filling the car up with gas will satisfy his hunger.
This world also provides a platform for our exercise of self-centeredness. Here in "the world" everything revolves around greed. "Greed is good" is the mantra of Wall Street today. Capitalism is the perfect example of "the world" because self-centeredness is what drives consumerism and the economies of "the world."
Here in "the world" we also chase name and fame, control over others and acceptance by others. This is why people strive to be CEOs, star athletes, movie stars and business moguls. It is also why people join clubs and groups, and even become parents. Everyone is striving to be in charge - to be accepted - to be appreciated - to be praised - to be adored.
And as we know from simple observation, all of these things are fleeting and temporary. The CEO must retire one day. The rock star or movie star will get old and lose their popularity. The business mogul will sell his business. The parents' kids will grow up. And all that acceptance from clubs and groups - these groups don't really care about us. They just want us to join so they will feel they are part of a big group and feel accepted. They are just as empty as we are, in other words.
Yet all of this is what Jesus is referring to as "the world." This is the illusion of future happiness founded upon the false identification with the physical body.
Jesus also points out that "the world" brings pain and suffering: "In this world you will have trouble." Actually, the word "trouble" is a poor translation of the Greek word θλῖψις (thlipsis) which means, according to the lexicon: "oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits."
Yes, this world is also a place of affliction and distress - a place of pain and suffering. It is, in fact, hell. While many ecclesiastical sectarian teachers threaten us with going to hell and urge us to achieve wealth, success and fame in the world through prayer, Jesus teaches that this world is a place of affliction and distress - we are already in hell.
Pain and suffering
These bodies are in pain from the moment of birth onward. The baby cries out in pain when born, and the early years are wrought with pain as the body begins to adapt to the outside world. Then come the pains of teething and intestinal issues. Then come the various scrapes and bumps as the child begins to walk. Then come the pains of the playground - both physical and emotional. Soon the child experiences the suffering of peer pressure and discipline as the child must learn to follow the rules. Then come the sufferings of adolescence with the pressures of school, friends and homework.
Then come the difficulties related to adult life - of finding a job and working for a boss and company that we'd rather not. And if we can't find a job - the pain and suffering related to survival itself - getting shelter and eating. Along with these afflictions come many others, including bouts of sickness, stress, fighting with others, and struggling for position with those who compete for what we seek. Then the people we take shelter in - parents and other relatives - die. Then our own body dies.
Today's ecclesiastical sectarian institutions cannot explain why the world is such a place of suffering. They cannot explain why some children are born into starvation and rape. They can't explain why God wouldn't make the world a happier place without so much pain and suffering. They can't explain why every body dies.
That is because they do not understand who we are and why we are here.
The physical world is that place where those who have rejected Him go. It was set up by the Supreme Being to give us the freedom from Him that we desire, but at the same time programmed to teach us that we will never be happy away from Him. It is set up to show us this through hardship and consequence learning. This is because He wants us to be happy. Like a parent who disciplines a child because they don't want their child to end up in jail for the rest of their lives, God teaches us through the events and consequences of the world - which take place through His programming.
But the bottom line is that the suffering of the world is our responsibility. Suffering is the natural consequences of our own actions combined with a learning experience. Yes, we create our own suffering and the suffering of others by our activities of self-centeredness at the expense of ourselves and others - in this lifetime and previous lifetimes.
Jesus specifically points out that his teachings bring relief from the pain and suffering of "the world" - "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace." What does this mean?
Jesus' teachings can save us
The above statement clearly indicates that Jesus' teachings will save his students. Jesus is representing God. He has introduced his students to the Supreme Being and as they re-establish their loving service relationships with God, they can have peace within. Why?
Because a loving relationship with God satisfies our need for love and to be loved. We no longer seek to be loved and appreciated by others because we have His love. We no longer seek to control or dominate over others because we become His subjects and that satisfies the emptiness that lies within.
We are empty without our loving service relationship with God because this is our natural position. God created us to love Him and serve Him. This is who we are.
But because love requires freedom, God gave us the choice to love Him or not. Those who choose not to love Him get sent away to the physical world - "the world" - to exercise our self-centered desires for awhile - in this place of consequences where we can pretend to be who we are not.
Jesus' teachings also deliver the solution to the hardships of the world. He says, "But take heart! I have overcome the world."
If we remember the deeper meaning of "the world" as illustrated here, we can see how Jesus has "overcome the world." How?
With his loving service relationship with God. Jesus is God's perfect loving servant. He is devoted to God and connected to God because his activities are motivated by his desire to please God.
This "overcomes the world" because "the world" is controlled by the self-centered motives of its inhabitants. When a person's motives are to please the Supreme Being, they "overcome the world" because they are no longer controlled by the self-centered desires that drive the rest of the world. They become aloof to the issues of "the world" because they are linked with God through their intent to please Him.
This is Jesus, and this defines salvation. Jesus wasn't seeking to "overcome the world" as Alexander or Hitler sought to conquer nations and peoples of the world. He had already "overcome the world" because he loved and served the Creator and only Owner of the world: The Supreme Being.
This is why Jesus' most important teaching was:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement from the Gospels of Jesus:
"These things I have said to you so that you may have tranquility. The material world gives you adversity, but take courage: I vanquish the material world.” (John 16:33)