Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

202. Hated by the World John 15:18-16:3

With dramatic suddenness Jesus now switched the theme of his discourse from love to hatred. It was needful to prepare the minds of the disciples not only for the intense shock of seeing their Lord crucified but also for the campaign of hostility and violence to be let loose against themselves, simply because they belonged to Christ and were continuing his work: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you." Here, as in so many places in John's gospel, kosmos signifies the Jewish world, the Judaist establishment. "The world cannot hate you." Jesus said to his own brothers, because they saw nothing wrong with Judaism and were happy in its philosophy of justification by works; "but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that its works of righteousness are evil" (.In.7 :7). This, basically, was why the Jewish religious system turned against Jesus—because he re-defined true righteousness as loyalty to and faith in himself, the Son of God, and because he had little room for religious observances which make a man feel pleased with himself.

Judaist persecution

So with a telling repetition of this word "world" which he so completely reprobated (six times in two verses!), he sought to fortify his apostles against inevitable bitterness and rancour. Share the religious outlook of your contemporaries, and they will give you their esteem without stint, he told them. But this is not for you. I have taught you differently. The new outlook and the new way of life which I have shown you inevitably separates. The world will see to that. It will hate you simply because you acknowledge me as Lord.

"Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord." He had said it to them less than an hour before, sitting at the meal table, after washing their feet to show them how their discipleship should go into action. But he had also said the same thing to them on another occasion when preparing their minds for the hostility and persecution which was bound to come: "It is enough (and more than enough!) for the disciple that he become as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Bealzebub, how much more them of his household!" (Mt.10 :24,25). Perhaps it is because he wished to recall this earlier warning about persecution that Jesus said: "Remember".

His words had that faint flavour of irony which they so often carried. "If they observed my teaching (and you know that they would have none of it!) they will observe yours also."

There was nothing for it but that the disciples brace themselves for coming trouble. Persecution was inevitable: "All these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me." And so it came to pass. The teaching and works of Jesus left that generation destitute of excuse:

"If I had not come and spoken unto them,
they had not had sin:
but now they have no cloke for their sin.
He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

If I had not done among them the works which none other man did,
they had not had sin.
but now (they have no cloke for their sin, for)
they have both seen and hated both me and my Father".
Hated without a cause

This emphasis on the witness born by his miracles is specially characteristic of John's gospel (3 :2; 5 :36; 7 :31; 9 :30-33; 10 :38; 14 :11). Their reception of his miracles should have been unhampered by any of the deep-rooted prejudice which now resisted his teaching. However they were impervious to every form of appeal made by him: "But (I spoke to them, and did these miracles) that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause."

There are four places in the Book of Psalms, to any of which Jesus might have been alluding (35 :19; 69 :4; 109 :3; 119 :161). Somewhat remarkably, the first three all have their roots in David's bitter experience at the time of Absalom's rebellion (see Study 187). Each of them makes mention also of the well-loved friend who turned traitor-Ahithophel, the prototype of Judas (35 :11-15; 69 :25-cp. Acts 1 :20; 109 :8). Two of these three psalms are specially appropriate to the earlier warning by Jesus: "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you"-"They speak not peace, but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land" (35 :20); "Let not them that wait on thee ... be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel... they persecute him whom thou hast smitten, and they count up the torments of those whom thou hast wounded" (69:6,26).

In the testing experiences of persecution the gift of the Holy Spirit was to prove a wonderful aid and solace, the Comforter in very truth. The Lord's words here (v.26), taken with Acts 9 :31, are most appropriate to the conversion of the one who most intensely hated and persecuted.

Wisdom and Power

Jesus had promised: "I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" (Lk.21 :15) - "for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Mt.10:20). The repeated impressive examples of Peter, Stephen and Paul in the Book of Acts show how literally true these promises of heavenly help were.

These men of God were keenly aware of a power and wisdom, far surpassing their own, being super-added to their own eager personal witness: "the Spirit of truth . . . shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness." So Peter was able to say: "We are his witnesses of these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, which God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5 :32), "It seemed good unto the Holy Spirit and to us . . .", said James at the council in Jerusalem, with an authority which no one dreamed of questioning (Acts 15 :28). In a somewhat more subtle fashion, when on trial before Festus Paul declared: "I am not mad .. . but speak forth the words of truth and soberness" (Acts 26 :25); the expression he employed there means: "to speak as a divine oracle." So he was not only inspired, but knew it.


The Lord's warning of persecution and promise of divine guidance were both given to save from stumbling these his followers who, left to themselves, would assuredly be overwhelmed spiritually as well as physically by the intellectual cleverness and unscrupulous power of their ruthless adversaries, and by undisciplined mass opposition also. No less than six times he spoke of "these things" which were to come upon them (15 :21; 16 :1,3,4,4,6; and note also 15:11,17).

Excommunication would be applied as a matter of course. It was a terrible weapon, for in its extremest form it involved not only religious but social ostracism-no man might buy or sell save he who had the mark of the synagogue. The blind beggar, healed of his blindness, boldly stood up to the bullying of the Jewish rulers, and paid for it by being "cast out" (Jn.9 :22,34). And men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were long held back from openly declaring their allegiance to Jesus by the same threat publicly held over the head or any who came out on the side of the Galilean (12:42).

But worse would follow: "Whosoever killetth you will think that he doeth God service"-and here Jesus used the technical term for offering sacrifice or singing psalms to God in His temple. It was a saying of the rabbis: "Everyone who sheds the blood of the impious is as if he offered sacrifice." Thus they were to be accounted as sheep for the slaughter (Rom.8 :36)! Saul of Tarsus was one of these fanatical persecutors. Years later he looked back on that phase of his life: "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they (others besides Stephen) were put to death. I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them I persecuted them even unto strange cities" (i.e. other places besides Damascus)" (Acts 26:9-11).

Jesus could hardly have put his warnings more plainly. Now was the time for the fainthearted among them to say: "No, Lord, this is more than I can face." Instead, Peter "spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise"—and "likewise also said they all" (Mk.14 :31), brave, loyal, weak, bewildered men that they were.

Notes: Jn. 15:18-27

For my name's sake. E.g. Acts 5 :41; 21 :13; 2 Cor.12 :10; Gal.6 :4; Phil.2 :17,18; 1 Pet.4 :14. And note the remarkable parallelism in ls.48:9: "for my name's sake ... for my praise."
The ellipsis here has to be filled in somehow. This reading is surely more to the point than the rather anaemic AV phrase.

They hated me without a cause. How well Psalm 69 repays careful study I It is given a Messianic application by the New Testament in no less than seven places: v.4, 9a, 9b, 20, 21, 22, 25. But what about verse 5?

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