The farewell discourse continues with Jesus warning his disciples that they will face the same difficulties that he has faced in dealing with the world. The attitude of the world to Jesus' disciples will be one of disregard, even hostility at times, but not acceptance; "if the master has been called Beelzebub, how much more his household", Matt.10:25.
v18. "When you experience rejection from your secular family, friends and acquaintances, and sooner or later you probably will, remember that godless society rejected me long before it rejected you." Although most English translations begin the sentence with "if", the Greek text implies something more than a possibility. Also, most translations use the word "hate", but the sense is more like "reject", with or without hostility. And finally, "the world" is used for "human society as it organizes itself apart from God", A.M. Hunter.
v19-20. An unbeliever will fit in with an unbelieving society, but believers belong to another dimension, to God himself. So, it is only to be expected that believers will inevitably be rejected by those who refuse to center their life on the living God. They harassed the Son of God, so they will harass his friends.
v21. This rejection is driven by a flawed understanding of reality. Secular humanity has failed to recognize that God is the center of the universe and that he has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ.
v22-24. Such a sin is inexcusable, the guilt of which is exposed in the coming of Christ. By rejecting the Son, godless humanity confirms its rejection of God Father, and so is left without excuse.
v25. Still, it had to be, so confirming the words of the prophet "they rejected me for no good reason."
v26-27. We could easily assume that Christ's ascension lessons the hostility faced by believers, but Jesus has sent the Spirit, his Helper, his Friend, sent him from the Father to witness to divine truth. This witness, along with the testimony of the apostles now preserved in the Gospels, prompts the same response that Christ experienced.
16:1. The difficulties believers face as followers of Christ can undermine faith, but forewarned is forearmed.
v2-3. Jesus actually predicts that the apostles will find themselves excommunicated, even murdered by people who think they are performing a service to God. Yet, their hostility only confirms that they have never experienced a relationship with God.
v4. Jesus was able to take the brunt of the world's hostility when he was with his disciples and so there was no point raising the issue with them. But now they need to know what the future holds. "When the time of persecution comes the disciples will remember that Jesus had foretold it, and this will therefore not weaken but strengthen their faith", C.K. Barrett.
A history textbook recently published for Australian schools titled SOSE Alive 2, when commenting on the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, states "Might it also be fair to say that the Crusaders who attacked the Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem were also terrorists." Without in any way justifying the violence employed by the Crusaders, the thought that they were seeking to restore the status quo seems to allude some secular commentators. Big Ideas, Australian Curriculum History 8, by Oxford University Press, speaks of the spread of Islam over the Middle East and into Europe as a benign process of expansion; "many of the peoples of the newly conquered regions converted to Islam. Those who did not were allowed to live peacefully and practise their faith as long as they abided by the law of the land and paid the jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims." It all sounds very reasonable, doesn't it? Of course, the facts are otherwise.
The onward march of secularism seeks to disparage Christianity, misrepresenting and undermining Christendom from a simplistic and biased perspectives. Little by little the Christian church in Western societies is belittled and marginalized, both the institution and increasingly individual members. Allan Davies, a very popular performer on the BBC TV programme QI, constantly belittles those who believe the Christian "myth". It is becoming a right of passage for comedians to disparage personal faith.
It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun. As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples he warns them that they will face the same harassment that he faced during his ministry. A godless society will tend to reject the gospel and those who seek to communicate it. This rejection may well be benign, but it can extend to harassment. In Luke 12:52 Jesus warns the disciples that the gospel will divide families. In the passage before us he speaks of divided communities, of the disciples being excommunicated from the Synagogue, even facing the possibility of murder. As Victor Pfitzner in his commentary puts it, "For all Jesus followers, fellowship with him will mean the loss of other fellowships."
In the passage before us Jesus exposes the core reasons for the rejection of Christ and of those who seek to make known his good news:
i] Bigotry: Flawed by sin, we humans are tribal, we love our own and are suspicious of the other. When it comes to the world believers are the other, we don't belong here, we belong to another place, to heaven, v19.
ii] Ignorance of God: Those who stand against the gospel do so because they are blind to reality; they cannot see the hand of God in their environment; they neither know of him, nor know him personally, v21.
iii] Guilt: Ignorance of God is inexcusable and the problem is that the gospel exposes this sin and so drives an aggressive guilt-avoidance response, v22, 24.
iv] Inevitable: This Shadow Land, as C.S. Lewis called it, this poor reflection of another place, distorts in the corruption of sin and so it is inevitable that it will "hate" without reason, v25.
v] To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: Had Christ just ascended to heaven and left his disciples to fend for themselves, the world of human affairs would have returned to its usual ways, but Jesus sent his Friend, his Helper, the Spirit of Christ, to empower his gospel and so we experience the same reaction to the gospel as Jesus did himself.
Forewarned is forearmed. It's very easy to become disheartened, even come to doubt the worth of our faith, particularly when we are surrounded by apathy and at time hostility to the gospel. Our churches are empty, our message ignored, even debunked, but remember the words of the Master, "They will respond to your message the same way they responded to mine", v20. Do not lose heart.
1. Consider each of the five reasons driving persecution and discuss their implication.
2. How does this passage encourage us in the face of persecution?