The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.
The Greek verb απψιημι does not mean “to leave” or “to give”, as it is often translated in this verse. It means, rather, “to send off”, “to remit”, “to discharge” or “to forgive” (in the sense of outstanding debt), or “to leave behind in the time of death”. I take it in the latter sense because Jesus was indeed talking about his death, and translate it here “to bequeath”.
Translators have universally given this statement a soft translation, making it beautiful. Christians have universally taken it as a soft, gentle statement. But in saying “I am giving it [peace] to you not as the cosmos gives (it)” Jesus was referring to the Hebrew word of greeting and farewell, then and now, “Shalom!” (“Peace!”), suggesting a kind of hypocrisy in how people say that word to each other’s faces and then knife each other in the back. He was also referring to the famous Pax Romana, the generally peaceful period in the history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus Cæsar, beginning in 27 B.C.E., and continuing until the fall of Nero and the “Year of the Four Emperors” in 69 C.E. and, of staggering local repercussions, a Jewish uprising which triggered the total destruction of Jerusalem under General (and later Emperor) Titus in 70. Pontius Pilate, before whom Jesus was about to be tried, like other local arbiters of Roman power, had to maintain that peace at all costs; as will be explored below, he was often so ruthless in keeping peace that it was hard to distinguish his methods from near-genocidal military actions; often the peace that results from the use of force is no more than the peace of people frightened out of the streets and into the shadows, people too scared to speak out, the peace of the graveyard. Hence the evident sarcasm on Jesus’s part in his reference to what the world then and now calls peace.
Still, given the context (16:5,6,12), in which Jesus registers his awareness of the disciples’ agitation at his impending death, there is a gentle, reassuring aspect to this statement. Here Jesus promises the disciples not the peace as the world gives it, but another kind of peace: the peace that comes from knowing that, by committing themselves to the Λογος, the Word of God, God’s beautiful plan for the entire creation, they are safe, protected by God, who loves them for loving Jesus.