A Comfort In The Hatred And Persecution Of The World
Our Lord had been talking about love (John 15:9-13, 17), but now He is talking about hatred; and He used the word seven times. It seems incredible that anyone would hate Jesus Christ and His people, but that is exactly what the situation is today; and some of that hatred comes from religious people.
In a few hours, the religious leaders of Israel would be condemning their Messiah and crying out for His blood.
Our Lord had openly taught His disciples that one-day persecution would come. He mentioned it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:10-12, 44) and in His “commissioning sermon” when He sent out the disciples to minister (Matt. 10:16-23). In His sermon denouncing the Pharisees, Jesus openly said that they would persecute and kill God’s servants (Matt. 23:34-35); and there was a similar warning given in His prophetic message on Mt. Olivet (Mark 13:9-13).
Throughout the Gospel of John, it is evident that the religious establishment not only opposed Jesus, but even sought to kill Him (John 5:16; 7:19, 25; 8:37, 59; 9:22; also note 11:8). As He continued His ministry, there was a tide of resentment, then hatred, and then open opposition against Him. So, the disciples should not have been surprised when Jesus brought up the subject of persecution, for they had heard Him warn them and they had seen Him face men’s hatred during His ministry.
Until the Lord returns, or until we die, we must live in this hostile world and face continued opposition.
How can we do it?
What is the secret of victory?
It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God in our lives. This is the key section in the Upper Room message about the Holy Spirit and His ministry.
Before we study this passage and see the threefold ministry of the Spirit to the church in the world, we must pause to remind ourselves just who the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit of God is a Person; Jesus referred to the Spirit as “He” and not “it.” The Holy Spirit has a mind (Rom. 8:27), a will (1 Cor. 12:11), and emotional feelings (Gal. 5:22-23).
In John 15:26 all three Persons of the Godhead are mentioned: Jesus the Son will send the Spirit from the Father. Because the Holy Spirit is a Person, and is God, it means that the Christian has God indwelling his body! If we did not have the Holy Spirit within, we would not be able to serve the Lord in this present evil world. We are to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), worship in the Spirit (Phil. 3:3), and witness in the Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Christians can stand and withstand in the midst of the world’s hatred because of the special ministries of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit As Comforter Encourages the Church
We should begin by clarifying what Jesus means by “the world,” because the term is used in Scripture in at least three different ways. It can mean the created world (“the world was made by Him”—John 1:10), the world of humanity (“For God so loved the world”—John 3:16), or society apart from God and opposed to God. We sometimes use the phrase “the world system” to define this special meaning.
For example, when you listen to the radio news, you may hear the announcer say, “And now the news from the world of sports!” Obviously, “the world of sports” is not a special country or planet where everybody lives who is connected in some way with sports. “The world of sports” refers to all the organizations, people, plans, activities, philosophies, etc. that are a part of sports. Some of these things are visible and some are invisible, but all of them are organized around one thing—sports.
“The world” from a Christian point of view involves all the people, plans, organizations, activities, philosophies, values, etc. that belong to society without God. Some of these things may be very cultural; others may be very corrupt; but all of them have their origins in the heart and mind of sinful man and promote what sinful man wants to enjoy and accomplish. As Christians, we must be careful not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17) or be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:1-2).
Jesus pulls no punches when He tells His disciples that their situation in the world will be serious and even dangerous. Note the progress in the world’s opposition: hatred (John 15:18-19), persecution (John 15:20), excommunication, and even death (John 16:2). You can trace these stages of resistance as you read the Book of Acts.
Why does the world system, including the “religious world,” hate the Christian, the one who believes on Jesus Christ and seeks to follow Him?
Jesus gave several reasons.
We Are Identified With Christ
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.
Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.
John 15:18,20 (NLT)
The world. Unredeemed society, estranged from God, held in the grip of sin and the evil one, blind to spiritual truth and hostile to those who have the life of God in them. Hatred would not be visited upon the disciples in a spirit of anti-Semitism, but as a continuation of the hostility and hatred visited upon Christ. The attack would move from the Shepherd to the sheep. As surely as their lives would reflect Christ, so surely would they attract the hatred of sinful men (Gal 4:29).
If they hated Him, they will also hate those of us who are identified with Him. In John 15:20, Jesus quoted the statement He had made earlier (John 13:16), and the logic of it is clear. He is the Master; we are the servants. He is greater than we are, so He must receive the praise and glory. But the world will not give Him praise and glory! The world hates Him, and therefore the world must hate us.
In the midst of persecution, Satan will try to convince us that this strife is our entire fault. If he succeeds, then we back down, and the pressure is off his followers. However, Jesus suffered continual rejection and persecution, yet we know that the problem was not with Him but with those who rejected Him.
Jesus was making it clear that persecution is an inevitable part of a godly life (2 Timothy 3:12) so that we will not fall prey to introspection and self-condemnation when rejection comes. If our sinless Savior was rejected, then certainly we will be too.
We Do Not Belong To The World
The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.
John 15:19 (NLT)
If we really believe what Jesus was saying here, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are persecuted. It should be just the opposite. We should be surprised if we aren’t persecuted. As the Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” The only Christians who aren’t persecuted are ungodly ones.
Persecution is a token that those doing the persecuting are under conviction. They realize that they are not living what your words or actions are advocating. So, in defense of self, they attack the one whom they perceive to be the source of their conviction. If this is understood, it makes persecution much easier to take. They aren’t just mad at you; they are convicted. When the Gospel is presented in the power of the Holy Spirit, there will always be either revival or riot but not indifference.
When we trusted Christ, we moved into a new spiritual position: we are now “in Christ” and “out of the world.” To be sure, we are in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually.
Now that we are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1) we are no longer interested in the treasures or pleasures of sin in this world. This does not mean that we are isolated from reality or insulated from the world’s needs, so “heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” Rather, it means that we look at the things of earth from heaven’s point of view.
The world system functions on the basis of conformity. As long as a person follows the fads and fashions and accepts the values of the world, he or she will “get along.”
But the Christian refuses to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). The believer is a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and no longer wants to live the “old life” (1 Peter 4:1-4).
We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13-16), but a dark world does not want light and a decaying world does not want salt! In other words, the believer is not just “out of step”; he is out of place! (See John 17:14, 16, and 1 John 4:5.)
The World Is Spiritually Ignorant And Blind
They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.
John 15:21 (NLT)
If you had asked the religious leaders in Jerusalem if they knew the God they were seeking to defend, they would have said, “Of course we know Him! Israel has known the true God for centuries!” But Jesus said that they did not know the Father and, therefore, they could not know the Son (see John 16:3).
The religious leaders knew a great deal about Jehovah God and could quote chapter and verse to defend their doctrines, but they did not personally know God.
This was not a new theme for our Lord to discuss, because He had mentioned it before to the religious leaders who opposed Him. “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father” (John 8:19). “But you don’t even know him. I know him.“ (John 8:55).
Jesus had taught them the Word and had demonstrated His deity in miraculous signs and a godly walk; and yet the religious leaders of the nation were blind to His identity: “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.” (John 1:10).
The religious world today claims to know God, but it does not want to bow the knee to Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the only Savior of the world.
Satan has blinded their minds (2 Cor. 4:3-4) and sin has blinded their hearts (Eph. 4:17-19). Like Saul of Tarsus, they are so convinced that their “religion” and “righteousness” are satisfactory that in the name of that religion they persecute God’s people!
The World Will Not Be Honest About Its Own Sin
They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates me also hates my Father. If I hadn’t done such miraculous signs among them that no one else could do, they would not be guilty. But as it is, they have seen everything I did, yet they still hate me and my Father.
John 15:22-24 (NLT)
Once again, Jesus emphasized His words and His works. We have seen this emphasis throughout the Gospel of John (3:2; 5:36-38; 10:24-27; 14:10-11). The people had no excuse (“cloak”) for their sin. They had seen His works and heard His word, but they would not admit the truth. All of the evidence had been presented, but they were not honest enough to receive it and act on it.
This statement is parallel to what Jesus told the Pharisees after He had healed the blind man (John 9:39-41). They had to admit that Jesus had healed the man born blind, but they would not follow the evidence to its logical conclusion and put their trust in Him. Jesus told them that they were the ones who were blind!
But since they admitted that they had seen a miracle, this made their sin even worse. They were not sinning in ignorance; they were sinning against a flood of light.
Because that light revealed their own sin and they did not want to face their sin honestly. Their attitude was similar to that described in 2 Peter 3:5—“They deliberately forget”.
How does the Holy Spirit encourage believers when they are experiencing the hatred and opposition of the world?
It is primarily through the Word of God. For one thing, the Spirit reminds us that this opposition is clearly expressed by various writers in the Scriptures.
This fulfills what is written in their Scriptures: ‘They hated me without cause.’
In Their Law
Don’t let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat.
Don’t let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow.
Psalm 35:19 (NLT)
All the Old Testament was sometimes called the law. The meaning here is that the same thing happened to him which did to the psalmist.
The same words, which David used respecting his enemies, would express, also, the conduct of the Jews and their treatment of the Messiah. In both cases it was without cause. Jesus had broken no law; he had done no injury to his country or to any individual.
It is still true that sinners hate him in the same way. He injures no one, but, amid all their hatred, he seeks their welfare; and, while they reject him in a manner for which they can give no reason in the Day of Judgment, he still follows them with mercies and entreats them to return to him.
Who has ever had any reason to hate the Lord Jesus?
What injury has he ever done to any one of the human race?
What evil has he ever said or thought of any one of them?
What cause or reason had the Jews for putting him to death?
What reason has the sinner for hating him now?
What reason for neglecting him?
No one can give a reason for it that will satisfy his own conscience, none that has the least show of plausibility. Yet no being on earth has ever been more hated, despised, or neglected, and in every instance it has been “without a cause.”
Reader, do you hate him?
If so, I ask you WHY?
Wherein has he injured you?
Or why should you think or speak reproachfully of the benevolent and pure Redeemer?
“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.
John 15:26-27 (NLT)
The Spirit also witnesses to us and through us during times of persecution. He reminds us that what we are experiencing is “the fellowship of His [Christ’s] sufferings” (Phil. 3:10) and that it is a privilege to bear reproach for His name. (Read carefully 1 Peter 4:12-19.)
Times of persecution have always been for the church times of proclamation and witness. We must be “ready always to give an answer” when unsaved people attack us (1 Peter 3:15). The Spirit witnesses to us so that we can witness to the world (Mark 13:11). Apart from the power of the Spirit of God, we cannot give a clear witness for Christ (Acts 1:8).