The World Hates the Disciples
18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: 'Servants are not greater than their master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Those who hate me hate my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'
The Work of the Holy Spirit
26 "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Playing college basketball games on the road is usually not the most pleasant of experiences. The trips are usually fairly long and uncomfortable. You wind up being jammed on a bus and eating a lot of fastfood. When you finally get to your destination, you find yourself in a new town and on a new college campus. Sometimes they can be pretty cool or even historic places, but you rarely get to see any of that. You pull up to a nondescript door in the back of some arena and walk into a dank tunnel that leads to a locker room. Other than the gym itself, that’s usually all you get to see of the campus or town. When you enter the gym, you don’t expect a welcome party but we went to one place that was crazy. There was a tradition of the fans at this university hating our school and team. We walked into the arena to warm up and were greeted by the loudest jeers and boos I’ve ever heard. When we were at our bench, we literally had things showered down on us like food, pennies, etc. I couldn’t figure out why we were getting treated so badly. None of us had ever even played in that gym and hadn’t done anything to anyone there. Yet we were part of the team and got treated all the same. I let the constant mistreatment get to me a little bit and at one point, as I was coming out of the game for a rest, I took the mouth guard out that I usually wore and threw it at some fans about ten rows back into the crowd. As we were leaving the campus, we actually had to have a police escort to get out of town. We were told that this was normal procedure when our team came into town. It wasn’t really anything we had done, it was just how our team was treated because we had always been treated that way.
As Jesus continues what has come to be known as his farewell discourse to his disciples, he has had some disturbing news for them, but has mostly tried to encourage them concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit and the help that he would provide for them. He has also told them many things that will surely happen so that when those things do come to pass, they can not only be prepared for them, but their faith won’t be shaken into thinking that God is not in control of events. Now Jesus has some even more challenging words for them. It was one thing to tell them that he would be rejected, mistreated, betrayed, ostracized, and even killed, but it was a whole new level of challenge to tell them squarely that these things would all happen to them as well once he was gone, and for the sole crime of being connected to him.
As we have seen throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has operated on the belief that what was true of the King was true of his people. If he was resurrected and entered into the life of the age to come, then so would they. Whatever he had and had access to, so would they. That was true of all of the good things that would come to the Messiah, but the reverse would also be true and they needed to prepare themselves for that. They shouldn’t start to shake and quake and turn in on their faith when the world hates them (a word that carried the idea of complete rejection in these times). The world should hate them because they hated Jesus first. If the world was embracing them and celebrating their work, then they had better take a long, hard look at themselves and see if they are doing the same work of the Father that Jesus was. They don’t belong to the world, they belong to the King. The world does it’s own will and basically embraces as it’s own anyone who accepts that philosophy. But the world clearly rejects those who clearly and radically live in a different reality and seek to do the will of God in all things. Jesus chose them as his disciples and that’s what they are. The world will hate them solely because of that. Disciples become like their teacher and if they reject the teacher they will reject the disciples.
This timeless principle should serve as a warning to all subsequent generations of the church. Following Jesus doesn’t always mean that we will be killed or brutally persecuted but it will never mean that we are embraced and celebrated by the world. A church or pastor that is too popular with those opposed to the will of God need to ask themselves some hard questions. Yet, sadly, we see more and more churches today that seem to be more concerned with being accepted by the world than in aligning themselves with God’s standard. They seemingly would rather change the word of God than be considered intolerant by the world. When we read passages like this we are reminded that we should know better.
Jesus has just reminded his disciples that the distinguishing mark of the communities they will create will be the self-giving love of God that Jesus has demonstrated throughout his life and will demonstrate fully at the Cross. What they need to know is that the more they display the genuine love of the new creation and live in ways radically different than the rest of the world around them, the more the world will hate them. As they lay their lives down for others, many will know they are Jesus’ disciples (Jn. 13:35) and be drawn to their community, but far more will reject them. Again, this is instructive for us because the world, in its rejection of Christians doesn’t do so because "they are so loving." They reject Christians for being intolerant of other religions, hateful, bigots, the ones causing all of the problems in society, or whatever else can be conjured up. Jesus first disciples needed to be steeled for that and so do we. It’s one thing to be rejected for loving and serving others, but it can be quite a different venture to attempt to love the world, be rejected, and have the rest of the world told that you are hateful and intolerant. The misinformation can often be far more persuasive in causing us to back away from the genuine gospel of new creation than the rejection itself.
The reasons for this hatred is twofold. The first is that the servant is not greater than the master. Jesus is not calling them mere servants, because he has just told them that they are his friends (v. 15), but the servant and master principle applies. Servants are not greater than their master. The way the world treated Jesus, in general terms of persecution and obedience, will hold true for them. The result of whether people reject or obey the Gospel is up to the Spirit not them. If people obey or reject their teaching, they can rest assured that they would have done the same with Jesus himself. The second reason is that what they do is what Jesus did and what Jesus did comes from the Father, the One who sent him. If the world rejects the disciples it is because they rejected Jesus, and if they reject Jesus it is because they do not know God and do not want to know the true God. If they do desire to humble themselves and know the true God then they will obey the true Gospel once they hear it. There is no middle room to reject Jesus and his disciples but still claim to love God. Take one you take them all, reject one you reject them all.
Jesus says that if he had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. His point is not that the Jews who have rejected him would be sinless. Rather, they would be innocent of the specific sin of rejecting the Father by rejecting him. They have had the full word of God revealed to them but have rejected it and will stand guilty of that sin before God and be judged by the very word, the very logos, that they have rejected. Again, none of this should come as any surprise. Jesus is forewarning them once again so that they can be firm in their faith when challenges come. None of this hate and rejection should come as any surprise. Far from being something outside of God’s control, God foreshadowed all of this in their Law (which is used here as a shorthand for "Scripture"), as Jesus identifies himself with the writings of David (Ps. 35:19; 69:4; 109:3). The entire Law, the Scriptures, bore witness to Christ, so when the Jews reject Jesus in their supposed zeal for the Law, they actually violate the Law and bring down condemnation upon themselves.
They will face much persecution, but that shouldn’t lead them to think that they will be on their own facing the world. Jesus reminds them of this, as he has already briefly mentioned and will tell them much more about in the rest of their talk. They will have the call and burden the responsibility of bearing witness of the Gospel to the world. But they will not do it alone. They will benefit from the true witness, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father. He is the One that will testify about Jesus. The Spirit will be with them and guide them, but He won’t ever force Christians to testify about the new creation. Think of it like a flotation vest. It doesn’t do much of anything in particular if you’re not in the water, nor will it make you jump in the water. You have to take the initiative to jump in the water based on faith that the vest will work and keep you above water. The Spirit will not testify through us about Jesus if we don’t. We have to step out on faith and be willing to be used, but regardless of how inadequate we feel, if we make the effort to allow him to guide us in to truth (v. Jn. 14:26) and have faith that he will testify about Jesus through us, He will. We don’t have to do the work or be anything special, we merely have to be willing to be used. The Spirit will do the rest.
Have you ever been persecuted for your faith? I’m talking about really being persecuted, not someone merely questioning your beliefs or practices? What was your response to that. Did you become angry, indignant, or even fearful, or did you humbly accept it as something that comes from serving the King? The Bible calls us to react humbly and in love to even persecution, and in the process, we might even attract some to the Gospel. Spend some time thinking about persecution and how you will respond the next time it comes.