John’s Gospel: Chapter 15:18-25 (“the world … hated me before it hated you”)

(John 15:18 ESV)  18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like any fun at all. Who wants to be hated?

But, of course, the more we’re like Jesus, the more we’re likely to be hated. Accepting that sad fact is part of the submission and sacrifice to which we’re called.

Yes, Jesus gives us incomparable joy and life abundant, but persecution is part of the equation, too.

(John 15:19-20 ESV)  19 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

Having been chosen to leave the world — to not be like everyone else — a separation necessarily occurs. We aren’t like other people.

The NET Bible translators comment —

Two themes are brought together here. In John 8:23 Jesus had
distinguished himself from the world in addressing his Jewish opponents: “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” In John 15:16 Jesus told the disciples “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you.” Now Jesus has united these two ideas as he informs the disciples that he has chosen them out of the world. While the disciples will still be “in” the world after Jesus has departed, they will not belong to it, and Jesus prays later in John 17:15-16 to the Father, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” The same theme also occurs in 1Jo 4:5-6: “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us.” Thus the basic reason why the world hates the disciples (as it hated Jesus before them) is because they are not of the world. They are born from above, and are not of the world. For this reason the world hates them.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath and the Pharisees wanted to kill him. There were many motivations, I’m sure, but one motivation was surely that Jesus appeared to be a better person than the Pharisees, since they objected to his doing good. They’d created a religion in which not doing good could be considered righteous and holy. And when they suffered by comparison, they became angry and sought to retaliate.

Just so, when we find doctrinal reasons to refuse to cooperate with “the denominations,” to refuse to support orphanages, to refuse to support campus ministries, how do we react when “the denominations” do those very things and receive praise for having done so?

(John 15:21 ESV) 21 “But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

Wow. Jesus says that the persecutors — largely Jewish religious authorities — will persecute the church because they don’t know God. Torah, Tanakh, Temple, tradition, and all notwithstanding, those who don’t know Jesus and his disciples, don’t know God. Jesus is the only path to God.

(John 15:22 ESV)  22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

Now let’s be clear. Jesus is not speaking of any ol’ sin in general. He is speaking of their hatred of Jesus and his disciples. Had Jesus not come, the officials would have still been corrupt, self-interested, compromised shepherds of God’s people. They would have still been judged for the sins they committed that they well knew to be wrong.

No, Jesus’ point is that by teaching them God’s will more perfectly — through his person, his example, and his word — they are now held to an even higher standard. They were given a greater opportunity to obey — having been instructed by the Son of Man — but are therefore also held to a higher standard.

Paul wrestles with the same issue in Romans 5, except there he is speaking of the consequences of the Law of Moses —

(Rom 5:20-21 ESV)  20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When the Israelites became better instructed as to God’s will at Sinai, they had a better opportunity to be obedient, pleasing servants, but they also became more accountable for their sins. Fortunately, God gives grace so that we need not fear the danger of knowing God’s will too well.

However, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day did not believe and so missed out on grace. Grace abounded, but not to those who hated Jesus. As a result, the penalty for God’s greater revelation is greater accountability — a very bad place for the Pharisees and others to be.

(John 15:23-24 ESV)  23 “Whoever hates me hates my Father also.  24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.”

Again, the thought isn’t that the Jewish leaders would have been sinless but that they wouldn’t be accountable for having rejected Jesus — a very grave sin indeed.

Some would argue that this means the Pharisees would have been saved had Jesus not come, but if that’s true, the Jews who gave their infants to Molech to be burned to death were saved, because they never heard of Jesus either. And that is obviously not the point.

Rather, their sin is not merely that they lack faith, but that they rejected the Son of God who was in their very presence and spoke the words of life from God to them. That’s a sin not everyone can commit, but it’s surely a sin that damns. This is, I’m sure, an example of a sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16).

Jesus is saddened that the leaders of his own chosen people have chosen a path that leads outside grace and so to death. Unfortunately, the only way to prevent their denying Jesus would have been for Jesus not to appear — which would have been even sadder. Jesus takes no pleasure in the damnation of those who are about to torture and kill him.

(John 15:25 ESV)  25 “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.'”

Jesus quotes from Psalm 35. It’s easy to see why —

(Psa 35:11-23 ESV)  11 Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know.  12 They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft.

13 But I, when they were sick– I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.  14 I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning.

15 But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing;  16 like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth.

17 How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!  18 I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.

19 Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes, and let not those wink the eye who hate me without cause.  20 For they do not speak peace, but against those who are quiet in the land they devise words of deceit.

21 They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha! Our eyes have seen it!”

22 You have seen, O LORD; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me!  23 Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord!

It’s a Psalm asking God for vindication against enemies who wrongly find fault, who take every action and every word the wrong way, lying to destroy their enemy — an enemy who was really their friend. Jesus’ allusion to the Psalm is prophetic.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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