Summary: Why are Christians persecuted for proclaiming a message of redeeming love?
The World Hated Me First
This passage occurs in the middle of what is called Jesus’ farewell sermon to his disciples which begins proper after Judas goes off to betray Him. Jesus, even before the Last Supper worked to prepare them for what was about to happen. He told them that they would be shattered and scattered like lost sheep. Even the impetuous Peter was told three times that he would deny Jesus under pressure.
But in a sense, Jesus is preparing them for future persecution. He knows they will utterly fail Him in the upcoming trial. But this was not the last trial the disciples would face. Plenty of persecution would result from their proclaiming Jesus Christ in the world. A similar situation happens in Matthew 10 where Jesus is about to send them on their first preaching tour, which from all reports seems to have been a positive experience, even though the disciples seemed to have learned the wrong lesson from this. Jesus tells them there also of future rejection and persecution. Jesus took time to thoroughly prepare His disciples for the road ahead. He did not candy coat anything.
In John 3:16, we read of God’s love for the world. He loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to die on a cross so that all who believe on Him might be saved and not condemned. Jesus also so loved the world that He willingly laid down His life, not just only for His sheep, but for the sin of the world. And how does this world respond to the love of God? You would think they should respond with the utmost gratitude. But Jesus says otherwise, and the persecution that Christians have undergone as a result of preaching this gospel of love and reconciliation. Believers have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and executed for this gospel. This might cause us some perplexity. Why should this be/ Why should we who only wish the salvation of humankind have to suffer as evildoers and be reduced to the offscouring of the earth? Jesus in this passage tells us why, and that we should actually expect this evil response by many.
Jesus reminds them that the world will hate them because they hated Him first. This word for hate is in the Greek perfect tense. This indicates a continuous hatred. They came to hate Jesus and continue to hate Jesus. This was not just a single act of hatred such as their crucifying Jesus. The world still hates Jesus today. This is why the world hates the disciples of Jesus.
Jesus reminds the disciples of their call. He had called them out of the world and ordained them. They now belonged to Jesus rather than the world. Jesus was not going to rapture them out of the world though but ordained them to be witnesses to the gospel. They would be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. People tend to mistrust people who are not like them. The fancy word for this is “xenophobia.” This is why cultural groups set up boundaries. This is why we have nations. Jesus not reminds them of a boundary, not between one culture and another nor one nation and another but between them and the world. The world accepts people who are like them. Jesus says they abide in continuous friendship as the imperfect verb indicates. Even though the world is divided into groups that hate each other, their hatred for Jesus is even greater. The Pharisees and Sadducees hated each other. They Jews hated the Romans. Yet they would conspire together out of hatred of Jesus to arrest and crucify Him. The heathen and the Jews would rage together.
Jesus reminds His disciples of their servant status. Because they are His servants, what happened to Jesus would happen to them also. The servants are not privileged above that of the master but are subject to what happens to the master, whether evil or good. But it would not be just doom and gloom for the disciples. Jesus reminds them that not all will reject the message. There would be some who would accept Him though the gospel. The disciples are called to be faithful to what Jesus had told them and in their witness of Him. If Jesus did not candy coat things, neither should we. We need to be honest with the world about the ramifications of the gospel. Some will accept and be a cause of rejoicing. Others would reject and hate them along with Jesus with an abiding hatred. Without the full preaching of the gospel, no one would come to be saved. This means the rejection is the cost for conducting the Lord’s business faithfully. Jesus’ reminder of their being persecuted is particularly emphatic though as extra pronouns for :me” and “you all” are added. This persecution is guaranteed.