Handling the World’s Hatred


Handling the World’s Hatred

John 15:18–16:4

Main Idea: Jesus warns his followers that the world will hate the church, and in their hatred they will lash out at those who follow Jesus.

  1. Why Does the World Hate Christians (15:18-25)?
    1. The world hates Jesus (15:18).
    2. Jesus has called us out of the world (15:19).
    3. We serve the one the world hates (15:20).
    4. The world is estranged from God (15:21).
    5. Jesus exposed the world’s guilt (15:22-25).
  2. How Should Christians Respond to the World’s Hatred (15:26–16:4)?
    1. Don’t stop witnessing about Jesus (15:26-27).
    2. Don’t fall away, no matter how severe it gets (16:1-4).

Estimates by Christian research groups put the annual number of Christians killed as a direct result of their faith as high as eight thousand (Heneghan, “Christian Persecution”). Another study found 111 countries who either restrict or are hostile to Christianity (ibid.). It’s reported that more than one hundred million Christians are suffering persecution around the globe. In North Korea alone, fifty to seventy thousand Christians are being held in detention camps (Zaimov, “Over 100 Million”).

Why are Christians subject to such persecution? In John 15 Jesus answers that question. Starting in chapter 13 and going through chapter 17, John records Jesus’s instructions to his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. He’s been preparing them to follow him and live for him after he returns to heaven. So far Jesus has focused on how he is forming them into a new community called the church. This new community will be recognizable because of the people’s deep love for one another, their commitment to obeying Jesus’s instructions, and their experience of joy. Now he turns his attention to how the world will view this new community. Jesus tells his disciples about persecution and suffering. He warns them about coming hatred and animosity. The world will hate the church, and in their hatred they will lash out at those who follow Jesus. In this passage we find the words hate and hatred eight times. Jesus will explain the reasons for the world’s hatred and then arm his disciples to face it.

Why Does the World Hate Christians?

John 15:18-25

The World Hates Jesus (15:18)

Jesus begins by saying, “If the world hates you” (v. 18; emphasis added), but “if” is not expressing uncertainty. Jesus doesn’t say, “In the unlikely event the world hates you.” The sense is more “If—and trust me they will.” The hatred of the world is a certainty. If you’re following Christ, this is a guarantee. If Jesus was hated, so will his followers be. Was Jesus hated? Less than twenty-four hours after he made this statement, he was arrested, tried for crimes he didn’t commit, mocked, beaten, whipped, then executed as a criminal. Before being hung on the cross, he was dressed up as a mock king, and while hanging on the cross, he was verbally assaulted before being physically impaled by a spear. Yes, the world hated him.

What does Jesus mean when he uses the word world? He’s not talking about the planet. He’s referring to all those who live in open rebellion to the Creator, which means all people. By virtue of our sin, all people have embraced this anti-God world system. Our sin has ushered us into this rebellious “world” in which we shake our fists at the heavens. Therefore, by definition, the world hates Jesus because it stands opposed to all that God is and is doing.

Jesus Has Called Us Out of the World (15:19)

Jesus chose us “out of” the world (v. 19). When he called us to himself, he called us from something. He called us from the ranks of rebellion to become part of his family. This call isn’t because we’re special. It’s a demonstration of his love, and it’s due to his unmerited favor. We do nothing to be called, but when people see us leave the fellowship of rebellion to join this new community of brothers and sisters, some will respond in hatred. D. A. Carson wrote, “Former rebels who have by the grace of the king been won back to loving allegiance to their rightful monarch are not likely to prove popular with those who persist in rebellion” (John, 525).

When Jesus called us to him, he made us part of a unique people. In 1 Peter 2:9 the church is described as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession.” The King James translated that last phrase, “a peculiar people,” but by nature we want to fit in. We want to be loved and respected by the world. The desire for respectability is what has often led to theological liberalism. Christians study with professors and in schools that don’t believe the Bible. They’re besieged by those who deny the supernatural accounts in Scripture. At some point they’ve got to make a choice between being accepted by the academics or being shunned for their “simplistic” understanding of Scripture. In other words, deny the Scripture and be accepted, or believe the Scripture and be labeled stupid, silly, and uneducated. Sadly, for many the desire to be accepted by men has caused them to reject Jesus. Beware of wanting to fit in with the world. We don’t want to stand out, but Jesus says, “I called you out” (see 1 Pet 2:9). Why? So we could bear fruit so different from what others bear they won’t be able to help noticing it (John 15:16). Fitting in with the world is the exact opposite of why Jesus chose us and called us and saved us and sends us. If fitting in with the world were the goal, Jesus wouldn’t have to do anything. We fit in with the world perfectly before he called us and rescued us. The purpose of our salvation is wrapped up in living distinctly.

The verse in 1 Peter that calls us “peculiar” (KJV) goes on to say that our uniqueness serves one purpose: “so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9). Jesus says in effect, “They will hate you because you’re different, but you’re different because I called you to be different. And your difference is what makes the gospel shine brighter.” The difference is not merely external. The Amish are different. That’s not what Jesus has called us to do and be. Don’t feel guilty using electricity. The difference is much greater. We are different in the kind of fruit our lives produce. The way we’re peculiar is that we pray, obey, rejoice, and love in ways that are unnatural to the person who doesn’t know Jesus.

We Serve the One the World Hates (15:20)

We follow Jesus. Where did Jesus go? To the cross. You can’t follow a crucified Savior and not expect a cross. If our Master (who never sinned) died because of the world’s hatred, logic alone tells us we should expect something similar, especially since we have sinned. In the face of the world’s hatred, it’s helpful for us to remember the reason we’re hated. It’s not personal. People’s hatred might be directed at us, but we’re not the ultimate target. Jesus is (v. 20). Before the nation of Israel had a king, they were led by the prophet Samuel. One day the people came to Samuel and begged him to ask God for a king on their behalf. Their request greatly troubled Samuel. He had given his life to serve them, and they wanted a king. When Samuel brought the request to God, God encouraged him by saying in effect, “Samuel, don’t take it personally. Their problem isn’t with you; it’s with me” (1 Sam 8:7). When the world hurts and imprisons and kills Christians, it’s not about us; it’s about Jesus. Their intended target was the King, but they can’t reach him, so they settle for taking aim at his followers.

Several apostles were arrested in Jerusalem for preaching about Jesus. When they were brought before the ruling council, they continued to talk about Jesus. The religious leaders wanted to kill them but were talked into letting them go:

After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name.(Acts 5:40-41)

The leaders’ problem wasn’t the disciples but the disciples’ Master. They beat the apostles because they hated Jesus and the disciples served him. The disciples understood what was going on. It’s why they rejoiced when they were beaten. They knew the beating wasn’t because of them but because of the Name they served, so they felt it was an honor to be beaten for that Name.

Many professing Christians never experience any hatred from the world because they don’t serve Jesus. If we wear the uniform with the word “Christian” written on our chests but we go out on the court and help the other team, the other team isn’t going to hate us. They’ll only hate the ones who actually play for Jesus. In John 15:20 Jesus says all humanity is divided into two camps: those who persecute his disciples and those who listen and obey his word spoken by the disciples. Christians are the point of the spear on which Jesus divides humanity. As we proclaim his words, people will respond one of two ways: they’ll receive them or reject them, and with them, the messenger as well.

The World Is Estranged from God (15:21)

Sometimes Christians act surprised by the world’s behavior. Too often we expect the world to live in obedience to God. We think a bunch of non-Christians should act like Christians. Jesus reminds us the world is estranged from God (v. 21). The world is living in open rebellion against the Creator. Whenever we’re shocked by the world’s behavior, it’s because we’ve forgotten the world’s condition. The world acting like the world is not shocking, and frankly that in itself is not persecution. But Christians should live differently. Jesus says the world will hate us “on account of [his] name” (v. 21). The hatred of the world comes to those who actually live for Jesus. The world doesn’t hate undercover Christians. And we shouldn’t make the world’s hatred a badge of honor. If we do, it might lead us to act like jerks. Being a jerk doesn’t honor God or cause the gospel to shine. We don’t actively seek out the world’s hatred. We actively seek out Jesus, and the more we do, the more the world will see it and respond negatively.

Jesus Exposed the World’s Guilt (15:22-25)

Jesus came to earth and did amazing things. He spoke like no man had ever spoken, and he did works no man had ever done. Yet the people hated him. We normally hate people if they speak and act in a way that is mean, untruthful, or arrogant. Jesus was none of these. Why was he so hated? Jesus entered a world made pitch black by sin, and he shone like the sun at high noon. As a result, all the sin and shame and wickedness around him were seen in the truest and most undeniable light. Jesus made hidden sin visible. He exposed all the ugliness in the hearts of the people. All those who thought they were pretty good saw their sin exposed, and they hated Jesus for it (vv. 22-25).

H. A. Ironside told a story to illustrate this point:

Years ago, at the time of the opening up of inland Africa by missionaries, the wife of an African chief happened to visit a mission station. The missionary had a little mirror hung up on a tree outside his home, and the woman happened to glance into it. She had come straight out of her pagan environment and had never seen the hideous paintings on her face, or her hardened features. Now, gazing at her own face, she was startled. She asked the missionary, “Who is that horrible-looking person inside the tree?”

She could not believe it until she was holding the mirror in her hand. When she had understood she said to the missionary, “I must have the glass. How much will you sell it for?”

The missionary did not want to sell his mirror. But she insisted so strongly that in the end he thought it would be better to sell it to her and thus avoid trouble. A price was set, and she took the glass. Fiercely she said, “I will never have it making faces at me again.” She threw it down and broke it to pieces. (Quoted in Boice, John, 1192–93)

“It is not the tree,” said the missionary. “The glass is reflecting your own face.”

The hatred of the world for Christians is the woman breaking the mirror that shows her true reflection. The world feebly lashes out at Christians due to a guilty conscience. The righteousness of Christ and the presence of his followers remind them of their guilt and shame. Instead of anger Christians have regularly expressed sympathy for their tormentors. We say with Jesus, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). They don’t understand that their hatred hides the guilty screams of their tormented consciences. We understand, so we respond with mercy, not anger.

How Should Christians Respond to the World’s Hatred?

John 15:26–16:4

Don’t Stop Witnessing about Jesus (15:26-27)

Jesus promises to send his Spirit to tell people about him; then he says his disciples will tell people about him (vv. 26-27). We understand these two promises as one promise—the promise his Spirit will empower his disciples to witness about him. The Holy Spirit is called the Counselor and the Spirit of truth (v. 26). He will help the disciples speak the truth about Jesus. The disciples aren’t left with this monumental task to accomplish on their own. Jesus promises divine reinforcements. The Spirit of God will be sent from the throne of God to empower the people of God to witness about the Son of God.

The Spirit of God empowers us to tell the truth. To tell the truth, we need to be honest about sin. We face the temptation to minimize sin in order to downplay the difference between Christians and the world. Again this stems from our desire to be loved instead of hated. However, if we’re not honest about sin, then we cannot impress upon people the need for a Savior. But honesty about sin begins by being honest about our own sins. It’s not always difficult to tell the truth about someone else’s sin, but it’s far more difficult to be truthful about our own. The Holy Spirit can help witness about our own need of salvation. We must not act as if we have it all together and we’ve got it figured out. Instead, we must be honest about our own brokenness, weakness, and failure. Then we can talk honestly about our desperate need for Christ, bearing witness about his grace at work in us. If we approach people while unwilling to open up about our need for salvation, then our words will seem like nothing more than arrogant, hypocritical condemnation.

There’s a danger of redefining sin in order to make the good news easier to hear, but love compels us to be honest: whatever God calls sin, we call sin. We have no authority to call clean what God calls unclean. The Holy Spirit helps us share this truth—difficult truth about sin and judgment—with a humble kindness that is compelling to others. We need to ask God to give us honest words wrapped in warm hospitality. One of the reasons we should try so hard to show hospitality is because we know the message of the gospel is offensive. To present the gospel honestly, we must tell a person that he or she is a sinner who stands guilty before God. But the offense of the gospel is part of a greater message of God’s plan to welcome sinners into his family because of the sacrifice of his Son. Hospitality demonstrates the gospel and puts the offense of the gospel in the greater context of God’s invitation to be reconciled through Jesus.

To testify about Jesus (v. 27) requires honesty about sin and a willingness to be rejected. No one enjoys rejection. We guard our feelings and friendships to prevent rejection. We’ll often cut off a relationship if it seems headed for rejection. When it comes to witnessing about Jesus, we must embrace rejection. In rejection we find fellowship with Jesus. Jesus was rejected, and when his people are rejected on his account, we find unique fellowship and identification with him (Heb 13:12-13). When we fear rejection by the world, we refuse to be identified with Jesus. Rejection by the world means we’ve joined Jesus outside the camp—where the criminals go, where the despised are sent, where the scum go to die. Whom do we want to be accepted by? Those inside the camp will accept us as long as we’re willing to stay silent about Jesus. Or we can speak up, face rejection, and choose to go where Jesus is—outside the wall, outside the circle, outside the city limits. The fear of being hated and rejected by the world often keeps us from speaking about Jesus. Don’t stop witnessing. If you’ve been silent, start speaking now. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help you share the truth about him.

Don’t Fall Away, No Matter How Severe It Gets (16:1-4)

Jesus doesn’t minimize the severity of persecution (16:1-4). He tells the truth, and the truth protects his disciples from becoming disillusioned. They won’t look back and say, “Jesus never told us it would be difficult. He said it would be easy.” No, he was honest about the cost of following him. He said they would be cast out of the synagogue and some would be killed (v. 2). To be cast out of the synagogue was a big deal. It meant more than losing your church. It meant being kicked out of your community. Your identity would be erased. Your future plans all shattered. You could not marry a girl from the community. Any children you had would be outcasts. Your family would consider you dead. They would throw a funeral for you and mourn over you. You would be a man without a family or a country. For a Jew, being kicked out of the synagogue would be a fate worse than death. Many would choose death over this dishonor.

It’s a far cry from the false promises of the prosperity gospel preached in so many places today. Following Jesus is worth it, and the benefits far outweigh the cost, but there is a cost. Any preacher who tells you following Jesus is the way to good health, riches, or luxury is not following Jesus; he’s selling you something.

Following Jesus leads to suffering and persecution. The persecutors will often be driven by religious fervor; they will persecute you as an act of worship to their false God (v. 2). They are misguided but sincere. The reality of persecution should not surprise us. In fact, the lack of persecution we face as American Christians is historically abnormal. The history of Christianity is filled with martyrs. As Tertullian famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Our family tree is filled with executions.

There is a price for following Jesus, and Christians through the centuries have been willing to pay the price. Why? The prize is worth the price. Knowing Jesus is worth the cross. In the face of intense persecution, we need to hold on to the truth and cling tightly to Jesus. When living for Jesus and speaking about Jesus brings persecution, don’t fall away. Instead, rejoice because God’s Spirit will be with you in a unique way as you share in the sufferings of Jesus (cf. 1 Pet 4:12-14).

What’s the greatest danger we face in times of persecution? Is it injury? Is it death? No. It’s falling away. The greatest danger in persecution is being convinced this temporary life is more valuable than Jesus. Persecution has a way of sifting the true disciples from the false. Persecution exposes spiritual scavengers—those who circle Christianity, hoping only to get something for themselves. Living for Jesus and telling others about Jesus might cause someone to hate you (cf. Luke 6:22). It may mean you’re excluded from someone’s circle of friends. You might experience mockery and insults. But don’t stop witnessing, and don’t stop walking after Jesus. Jesus says in effect, “In the face of persecution, don’t fall. Keep walking. Keep trusting. Cling to me.”

John Paton was a missionary to the cannibals on the New Hebrides islands in the mid-1800s. He suffered greatly and faced death many times. He described one time when a native tried to kill him with an axe and another man stepped in and saved his life. He wrote,

Life in such circumstances led me to cling very near to the Lord Jesus; I knew not, for one brief hour, when or how attack might be made; and yet, with my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the scepter of the universe, calmness and peace and resignation abode in my soul. (Quoted in Piper, Filling Up, 64)

When you face persecution for following Jesus, whether it comes from a native swinging an axe or a neighbor spreading a lie, cling to the hand once nailed to Calvary and now wielding the scepter of the universe.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How will the world feel toward Christians?
  2. How might fear of the world cause one to fall away from Jesus?
  3. Why is fitting in with the world in opposition to God’s plan to call us out?
  4. Why have Christians been called out by Jesus?
  5. How might the prophet Samuel’s experience help us in enduring the world’s hatred?
  6. Why was Jesus so hated?
  7. What does the Spirit of God empower the people of God to do?
  8. Is there a person in your life you haven’t shared the gospel with out of fear of rejection? How is the Holy Spirit’s help good news for you?
  9. What reason do you have to rejoice in the face of persecution?
  10. What is the greatest danger we face in persecution? How can we fight this danger?