Jesus has been expressing the glorious relationship that he has with his disciples. Jesus used the vine imagery to show that he is the true Israel and only those connected to him bear fruit to God and belong as God’s children. Full joy can be found in the commands of God. But though we can find full joy with a life in Jesus, this does not mean that life will be easy. Jesus wants to make sure that his disciples understand this truth. Though we are in Christ and enjoy a wonderful relationship with him does not mean that we will not have aggressive opposition as his disciples. This warning is given in John 15:18. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18 ESV)
The World Rejects Those Who Are Not Part of It (15:18-19)
We cannot be surprised that we will be rejected by the world. The world rejects anyone who does not talk or act like it. The world rejects those who do not subscribe to their value system. The temptation comes to us to mold into the world’s way of thinking. The world pressures us to change our views on divorce, sexual immorality, homosexuality, lying, and so many other values. Listen to what Jesus is saying: we will be hated for upholding these beliefs. There is nothing wrong with our values and our beliefs from the word of God that would change just because our thinking is rejected. Jesus said his teachings were counter-cultural and will be hated by the world.
The World Hates Disciples Because It Hated Jesus (15:20)
Further, Jesus wants to remind us about what happened to him. The servant is not greater than the master. If our Master was hated by the world, then the servants will certainly be hated by the world. Since they persecuted Jesus, then we are also going to endure persecution. If the world receives the teachings of Jesus then they will receive your teaching. If the world does not receive the teachings of Jesus then they will not receive your teaching.
The World Hates Disciples Because It Does Not Know God (15:21-16:4)
Jesus further warns that there will be people who claim to know God but do not know God at all. Notice that Jesus says this rejection and persecution that the disciples will experience will be done on account of the name of Jesus. These people will think they are doing the right thing. Jesus gives even more to this idea in John 16:2. They would kill the disciples thinking that they were offering service to God. We know of one person who exemplified this truth: Paul. Paul was persecuting Christians out of service to God. The world is not excused for this rejection. They have the knowledge of Jesus and are guilty of their actions. There is no excuse for their sins. It is not that these people did not know (15:24). They have heard and seen the works of Jesus and are guilty.
I want to observe something interesting about what Jesus says. Jesus declares that ignorance leads to false worship and false service. We cannot be ignorant of the scriptures. We cannot allow ourselves to not know what God says because our ignorance will lead us to false worship and false service. This is why we see so many different denominations and religious teachings. People are ignorant of the scriptures. We cannot fall into the same deception of just believing what the preacher or teacher says. You must know the scriptures for yourself. I try hard to assist you in that so that all of our studies and teachings are centered on the scriptures. Every lesson is to open your Bible and study what it says. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance will lead us away from the Lord. Ignorance will lead us to believe and do things that God rejects, believing that we are living for God.
These things were not a surprise to Jesus. God prophesied the rejection of Jesus many times in the scriptures (cf. Psalm 69:4). Jesus taught these things so that his disciples would not fall away from the Lord when these difficulties, persecution, and rejection occurs (16:1). Remember these words and be prepared for that coming hour for these apostles will certainly experience rejection (16:4). In the same way, we also need to prepare ourselves so that we are ready for rejection from the world. We need to listen to what Jesus is saying so that we will not give our faith away when we are rejected by the world.
The Cost of Discipleship
The message Jesus gave to these disciples is certainly true for us. We cannot think that we will have a different outcome for preaching the message of Christ.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:12–13 ESV)
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:3–5 ESV)
Religious expression is vilified as images and representations of God continue to be challenged, rejected, and removed. But we must remember that the proclamation of the gospel always causes a response. The book of Acts shows people either receiving the gospel or trying to persecute those who proclaim the gospel. Just because the world rejects the message does not mean that we can change the message or stop telling people what the scriptures teach.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:32–34 ESV)
Just a few sentences later Jesus also said: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38–39 ESV)
Before we discuss how we are to handle persecution, I want to make a careful observation of John 15:25. Notice that the quotation of scripture is that they hated Jesus without a cause. This is a reminder that the goal is not for us to try to stir up trouble. We are not trying to create hated or cause persecution by what we say and do. The goal is not to be inflammatory or caustic. Paul commands Christians in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” So we are not to be the ones who try to stir up trouble. We are trying to live peaceably while teaching the gospel and holding to the values taught in the scriptures. So we do not look for persecution but we understanding that suffering and rejection will come from being a follower of Jesus. The distinction between the world and ourselves is becoming more obvious and evident.
Based on Matthew 10:32-34 there is no excuse or reason to ever deny Christ. Jesus’ own words point out that confessing Christ to the world is going to bring a sword against us. Our confession of Jesus will cause family strife. We must be ready to lose our lives for the sake of Jesus. Jesus lost his life for our sake and we are not greater than our Master. We cannot deny that we are a Christian. We cannot deny that we are proclaiming Jesus. We cannot lie about not being a Christian to preserve our lives or keep us from persecution. We know from the multiple examples in the scriptures that we cannot stop doing what God commands or wearing the name of Christ even if it means certain death. Daniel and his three friends are useful examples of this truth, as well as the apostles who were sternly instructed not to proclaim Jesus (Acts 4:18). The response of needing to obey God and not the authorities is very instructive (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). Therefore, we will teach the gospel even if it means persecution. We will teach the gospel even if it illegal to do so. We must obey God not people. Paul taught Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Listen to what Paul says to Timothy at the end of this same letter.
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. (2 Timothy 4:5–6 ESV)
We need to hear these scriptures and see how frequently this message is taught to prepare our minds for the world to hate us and for us to suffer for the cause of Christ. We must be ready to give our lives. We must be ready to not be silent in the name of the Lord. We will be mocked in school. We will be ridiculed at work. We will be maligned by the neighbors. We will experience subtle persecution now. We must be ready for persecution to become worse as the rejection of Jesus continues to grow in our society.
I want to conclude with Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Christians who were suffering persecution for the cause of Christ at the hands of the Roman Empire.
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27–30 ESV)
Paul says it is granted to us as an opportunity to suffer for the sake of Christ. This must be our point of view for this is how the apostles could rejoice in suffering (cf. Acts 5:41). It is simply a clear sign of your salvation that comes from God himself. Stand firm in the faith and stand for the cause of Christ.