Series: The Gospel of John
There are few things less desirable than being hated by someone else. Yet Jesus tells us in this passage that the world will hate us if we follow him. How can we under that hatred? The Holy Spirit will help us.
The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), D.A. Carson
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel According to John, J.C. Ryle
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Compare two news stories, both sadly common: Someone was killed in a car accident, someone was killed by murder. Which one scares you more? Probably the murder, right? Why? The result is the same: The victim ends up dead. The average human is at least twice as likely to die in a car accident as they are to die by murder, yet the murder scares us more, because in the case of a murder, it’s because somebody hated you, and that’s a terrible feeling. It’s such a terrible feeling that many of us spend a lot of our lives trying to figure out how to keep people from hating us. But in the passage on which we’re focusing today, Jesus assures his disciples that they will be hated by others. It’s often noted that despite all of the professed love for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, he was hated in his day, and that’s even truer of Jesus: For all the positive things even unbelieving people have to say about Jesus today, he was hated in his own day. People really really did not like him; there’s a reason he was crucified. And in this passage, he tells his disciples that the world will hate us too. He tells us this so that we won’t waste our lives trying to get people not to hate us, and will instead give our lives to following him. And He promises us help to get through it. Though the world will hate you, the Holy Spirit will help you. To unpack that, we’ll look at the hatred of the world, the testimony of the Spirit against the world, and the testimony of the Spirit in favor of Jesus.
The hatred of the world
Our passage this week begins with Jesus’ statement that if the world hates us, we should know that it hated him before it hated us. He says in verse 19 that those who are his disciples are no longer “of the world.” He says, rather, that he chose them out of the world. If they were of the world, the world would love them, but since Jesus chose them out of the world, the world hates them, not just the world might hate them, but the world does hate them. To be “of the world” is to think, do, and love what the world around you thinks, does, and loves. Therefore, the world tends to love you. It recognizes you as “one of us,” but then Jesus says if he’s chosen you of the world, it will no longer recognize you as such. It will recognize you as “other,” and hate you accordingly. Jesus says in verse 20 that a servant is not greater than his master, and if they persecuted him, they will also persecute his disciples. In verse 21 Jesus explains why: It’s because they do not know the one who sent Jesus. In verse 23 he says if they hate me, they hate God the Father also. So the ultimate reason, Jesus says, that the world will hate his disciples, is because they hate Jesus, and the ultimate reason they hate Jesus, is because they hate God. The world is in rebellion against God, and so when the world recognizes that you are no longer one of them, but are now on God’s side, they will hate you, because they hate God.
Then in chapter 16, Jesus begins to describe what this will look like: They will put you of the synagogues, verse 2. So there will be a social, and in this case religious, exclusion. But then beyond that, they will kill you, and in so doing they will think they are offering service to God. And we see this in Jesus’ life. Though some believed in him, overwhelmingly Jesus was rejected, and eventually, he was killed, all, as Jesus says in verse 25, “without a cause.” There wasn’t anything wrong with Jesus that made people hate him. They hated him because they hated God.
As the history of the early church transpired in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, his prediction here came true: Jews who claimed Jesus was the Christ were put out of the synagogue and killed in the name of Jesus; you can read about it in the book of Acts. In the years that followed, under certain Roman emperors in particular, Christians were the subjects of persecution at the hands of the Romans. Tertullian, an African Christian writing in the late 100s, says Romans accused Christians of being cannibals, incestuous, and sacrilegious for refusing to worship the Roman gods. In the time of the Protestant reformation, protestants were put out of the Roman Catholic Church, and Queen Mary Tudor, better known to us today as Bloody Mary, burned godly Christians because she thought she was offering service to God in favor of the Roman Catholic church.
In other words, in every time and place, the world finds reasons to hate Christians. A servant is not greater than his master. If they hated Jesus, and you follow Jesus, they will hate you. It’s hard to accept this any time; who wants to be hated? It’s perhaps especially hard for American Christians to accept this, because in America we’re all trained to believe that we ought to be able to fix everything. Work hard enough, get creative enough, and you can accomplish your dreams! Unwittingly, then, many American Christians assume that if I’m just winsome enough, if I’m just loving and kind enough, I should really be able to follow Jesus and get the world to like me. So when they encounter a situation where it seems like following Jesus is likely to bring on the hatred of the world, they really struggle to accept that you may just need to accept the hatred of the world. Instead, they’ll often look for ways to redefine what it means to follow Jesus so as to avoid the hatred of the world. Jesus says that’s not possible. If the world hated him and you follow him, it will hate you, because you are not of the world.
Sometimes the world hates Christians because it doesn’t understand them; Tertullian was dealing with that in his day. Christians aren’t cannibals or incestuous; the world shouldn’t have hated us for that. So yes, you should try to clear up misunderstandings. If the world thinks Christians hate gay people, you should clear up that misunderstanding. And sometimes the world hates Christians because Christians have not lived in accordance with the tenets of Christianity. Some black Americans hate Christians because professing Christians were some of the strongest supporters of the American slave trade. So we should confess that as sin, point out ways Christians, especially black Christians, also led the fight against the slave trade, and seek to repair its damage today. We should clear up misunderstandings, we should own our sins and seek to increasingly live up to our tenets, AND we should make peace with the fact that even if we do all of that perfectly, the world will hate us, because the world doesn’t ultimately hate us because it doesn’t understand us or because of our shortcomings. It hates us because it hates Jesus, and we are of him, not of the world.
So we do see the world hating us today. In America you probably aren’t afraid that people will kill you because they think they’re offering service to God, but we should not forget that we have brothers and sisters throughout the world for whom that is a more live issue today. In parts of the Middle East and Africa there are Muslim terrorists who will kill Christians because they think they are offering service to God. In Northern India there are Hindu Nationalists who will kill Christians because they think they are offering service to their gods. And who knows if that’s in the future for us in America? More commonly, though, you’ll probably face the “social exclusion” type of hatred here, the “putting you out of the synagogue.”
In some parts of the country, taking a hard stand against racism or advocating for immigrants puts Christians in danger of social exclusion, and perhaps even death in those places. Certainly Christians, black and white, who advocated for the lives of black folks in the south during the time of lynchings could face death threats themselves. In Philadelphia, you may also have opportunities to stand against corruption, expose abuse or other kinds of crime, either by simply not participating in these things or speaking out against them, and the world may hate you for that. Sometimes the Muslim and Black Hebrew Israelite communities in Philadelphia can be particularly vocal in their hatred of Christians. More commonly for most of you however, I’m guessing in Philadelphia you feel or fear the world’s hatred around the hot-button issues of abortion, gender, and sexuality.
Abortion is obviously in the headlines now because Roe v. Wade was recently overturned, and whatever your political proclivities, Christians should all agree and historically have all agreed on the basis of the Bible that human life begins at conception and a child in the womb is an image of God who therefore has the right to not be murdered. That makes some people in the world very angry. Similarly, gender and sexuality were on the forefront of many minds this past month during pride month, and Christians should all agree and historically have all agreed on the basis of the Bible that there are only two genders, male and female, and each human is born essentially and unchangeably male or female as revealed in his or her biological sex. Similarly, marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman intended to last as long as both parties live, and any sexual activity outside of it, including homosexual activity, is sinful. And, again, that makes some people very angry.
Now, there are a lot of misunderstandings we can clarify with those things, and a lot of shortcomings we should own: We need to care for the mothers and children of unplanned pregnancies, we need to deal with poverty, Christians have often mistreated those who identify as gay, we should advocate for the rights of gay and trans folks to get jobs and have safe places to live and so forth. But every follower of Jesus needs to make peace with the fact that if the world hated Jesus, it will hate us too if we follow him, and no matter how many misunderstandings we clear up, no matter how many shortcomings we own and rectify, the world may still hate us for these things, even if we aren’t trying to make them issues of first importance. Who knows if that means one day people will kill us and think they’re offering service to God in doing so? We already feel the social isolation though, right? I talked with one member recently who said at his company, all the higher-ups have rainbows or some way of identifying themselves as “allies” in the LGBTQIA movement in their email signatures. Now it’s not written down anywhere in his company policy that you must affirm homosexual sex to reach a certain level in the company, but you pretty easily get the sense that’s true. And what’s that do to you? It puts the pressure on you to conform to those in power.
Other times it’s not the executive; it’s the friend or family member you love and care about who claims to follow Jesus but now identifies with the opposite gender, or is openly engaging in homosexual relationships, and you fear that if you just made clear to them what the Bible teaches on this, they would hate you. And so what happens to many Christians in places like Philadelphia? They try to change what the Bible says on these issues, or they fall away entirely. They love the world or that family member or friend more than they love Jesus. They love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. And Jesus says the reason he’s telling us these things is specifically so that won’t happen. In 16:1 he says “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” In other words, I’m telling you the world is going to hate you now, so that when the world hates you for following me, you’ll keep following me, instead of conforming to the world. Don’t fall away. We don’t know why the world will hate you, we don’t know how that hatred will be expressed, but you can be sure of this: The world will hate you if you follow Jesus. Stop trying to avoid it. How will you get through it? Jesus says He will send you a helper, the Holy Spirit, who will testify against the world.
The testimony of the Spirit against the world
So Jesus says in the second half of verse 4 that he hadn’t told them all these things in this level of detail earlier because he was with them, but now that he is departing and sorrow has filled their heart at his departure, he’s telling them not only about the troubles they will face, but about the help he will give. In fact, he says in verse 7 that it’s better for them that he go away, because if he does not go away, the Helper will not come to them. The gift of the Holy Spirit, of God being in them, could only be given to them once Jesus suffered the penalty for their sin and rose from the dead. But once Jesus dies, rises again, and ascends to the Father, he will send the Spirit, and when he comes, here’s what he’ll do, verse 8: He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. These verses are hard to understand, and I say that not only because I’m still having a hard time understanding them, but because when I read the commentaries on them, the commentators say they are hard to understand, but they seem to be saying that in this scene where Jesus’ disciples are following him but the world is hating them, one of the ways the Holy Spirit will help Jesus’ disciples is by putting in his testimony in the matter against the world. So imagine the courtroom scene: The world is the plaintiff, accusing believers of all kinds of things just like they accused Jesus. But the Holy Spirit hands down a verdict against the plaintiff instead, concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Concerning sin, Jesus says, because the world does not believe in him. Recall earlier in this passage Jesus said that the Jews are guilty because despite the great signs he did before them and the words he spoke, they did not believe. In verse 26, Jesus also talked about the Helper, the Holy Spirit coming, to bear witness about him, and that his disciples also would bear witness. So in the book of Acts, Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, was filled with the Spirit and bore witness about Jesus to the Jews, that he was the Christ whom they crucified, and we read in Acts 2:37 that when they heard this they were “cut to the heart.” What happened there? Through Peter’s Spirit-filled witness, the Holy Spirit convicted those Jews of sin because they had not believed in Jesus. On that day, many of them did repent and were forgiven of their sin. On the other hand, throughout Acts, we also see others responding to this witness with greater anger and hating Jesus’ disciples, just as Jesus predicts here. So the convicting work of the Spirit in the world concerning sin does not guarantee conversion, though it does sometimes produce it.
Jesus say the Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, because he goes to the Father, and judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Bear with me here, because this is also hard to understand, but I’m going to try to explain it. Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s judgment on this world. In it he testifies to his hatred of sin and the lostness of this world. In it the world commits the ultimate sin, killing God’s Son, and in it God judges sin by punishing Jesus for the sins of the world. In this, then, the ruler of this world is likewise judged, and stripped of his dominion over the nations. Through Jesus’ death, God is now going to gather into one all the peoples of the earth. And God has given testimony to this by raising Jesus from the dead and bringing him to sit at his right hand. So listen to this from Acts 17:30-31, as Paul is preaching to unbelievers shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
So there you have these concepts of righteousness and judgment, God fixing a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus, and he has testified to this by raising Jesus from the dead. In other words, God patiently bore with the sins of the world, but now that Jesus has died, returned to the father, and judged the god of this world, the clock is ticking toward the final judgment, where God will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus. So the Holy Spirit is now going to be unleashed on the nations, to convict them of their unrighteousness, and to warn them of the coming judgment, because now that Jesus has gone to the Father, the times of ignorance are over, the judge is on his throne, and it’s time for the world to repent and turn to Jesus or face his judgment. That’s the best I can understand and explain what it means that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
So, how does that help us? It means, on the one hand, that though the world will hate us, some of the world will join us. Remember that we were all “of the world” by our first birth, and it’s only because Jesus chose us out of the world that we no longer are of the world. Part of the reason we’re so afraid of the world is because we do assume they will all hate us. But remember Jesus says that some will receive our words. The Holy Spirit will do his convicting work, and some who you think will definitely hate you if you tell them the truth about Jesus will end up hating their lives in this world instead, and becoming a new creation. The Holy Spirit has been given in order do to this in the world. Nonetheless, some will still hate you, and the Spirit will help us in those times by testifying with our spirits that we are bearing witness to the truth. He’s done that first by giving us the words of these first witnesses, those who, as verse 27 puts it, were “with Jesus from the beginning,” who wrote the words of Scripture. How can we bear witness to Jesus even when it means denouncing racism and the world’s vision for gender and sexuality? Because you have the Scriptures, which so clearly do both, and the Spirit continues to convince you of their truthfulness, and of the world’s sin, unrighteousness, and coming judgment.
And, finally, not only will the Spirit bear witness against the world. He will bear witness in favor of Jesus.
The testimony of the Spirit in favor of Jesus
So when Jesus first introduces the Spirit in this passage, in verse 26, he says the work of the Spirit will be to bear witness about Jesus. Then he says they will also bear witness, because they have been with him from the beginning. The unique qualification of apostles, that gave them the authority to oversee the writing of the New Testament, was that they had been with Jesus when he was in bodily form on earth and had therefore seen his work of salvation and heard his words. Hence the name “witness.” That’s why we have the New Testament and books like the Gospel of John, which we are reading today. Jesus unpacks this further in verse 12 of chapter 16, where he says he still has many things to say to them, but which they cannot bear now. But when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide them into all truth. And here he’s not saying the Spirit will teach them quantum physics or tell them where to live and who to marry. Specifically, the truth into which the Spirit is going to guide them is the truth concerning Jesus. He says in verse 14: He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
So while the Holy Spirit is going to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, he’s also going to bear witness to the glory of Jesus. He’s going to testify that Jesus was truly the one sent from God. He’s going to testify that though Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, he was without sin. He’s going to testify that the death of Jesus, though it looked like the execution of a blasphemer, was actually a death he died for our sins, to suffer under the wrath of God in our place. He’s going to testify that Jesus truly is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father. He’s going to testify that Jesus is in heaven now, interceding for his people. He’s going to testify of “the things that are to come” as verse 13 puts it, that Jesus is going to come again to judge the living and the dead, but whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. The world will hate you and tell you you’re foolish, you’re wasting your life, even that you’re evil, intolerant, hateful, and slowing down the progress of humanity. But the Holy Spirit will help you by testifying to you not only that they’re wrong, but that Jesus is glorious.
That’s how you won’t fall away when the world hates you. Telling yourself you have to take the right stances and do the right things wears thin quickly when the world hates you for it. People who try that tend not to last. They either fall away or they get kind of embittered and angry. Neither of those look like Jesus. But when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your heart to see the glory of Jesus, and you start to feel like, “Well, I have to say Jesus is God, because he really is, and he’s just so great,” then you’ll do that even when they put you of the synagogues and think they’re doing service to God when they kill you. When the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your heart to see the glory of Jesus, and you start to feel like, “Well, I can’t worship the roman gods, because Jesus is my Lord, and I can’t serve two masters,” then you won’t worship the roman gods, even when they socially exclude you and threaten you with death. When you say, “Well, the work of Jesus is so glorious that I can’t say human merit must be added to it for people to be saved,” then you’ll say it even when the Roman Catholic Queen Mary is burning you at the stake. When you say, “Well, I have to care for the poor and marginalized because Jesus cared for me when I was spiritually bankrupt and outcast,” you’ll do so even when it brings death threats. And yes, when you say, “Well, I have to say what Jesus said about sexuality because he is my Lord and I know how good of a Lord he is,” you’ll do it even when it means you might never be an executive in your company.
The world will hate you, but the Spirit will help you by bearing witness about Jesus to you. As we close, let me just note again in talking about the Spirit how lamentable it is that there is such confusion among Christians today about the work of the Spirit. Many today assume the work of the Spirit is something separate from Jesus, to give us an emotional or miraculous experience apart from glorifying the work Jesus already accomplished, which is sufficiently revealed to us in Scripture. What help so many Christians are missing out on. As the late pastor Jack Miller used to say, “There is so much glory in Jesus, and we see so little of it.” Some Christians today will even say we focus too much on Jesus, and we need to restore a focus on the Holy Spirit. How crazy a thought, when the work of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus. As Philly rapper Shai Linne puts it, the Holy Spirit isn’t in the limelight; He is the limelight, shining the limelight on Jesus. Open your eyes and look in the limelight at the glory of Jesus. See it in the Scriptures the Holy Spirit inspired, the witness those who were with Jesus from the beginning bore. Hear it from those set apart to bear witness to you, whom the Holy Spirit has made overseers in your church, your pastors. Hear it from one another, as we all speak the truth in love to one another. As you face the hatred of the world, as you start to feel that pressure to fall away and conform, consider again the glory of Jesus. Consider the glory of his eternal, divine person, the humility of his incarnation, his gentle and lowly heart revealed in his life on earth, his sinless life, his substitutionary atoning death on the cross, his victory over death, his ascension into heaven, his current intercession, his return in glory, and his everlasting reign. And if you don’t know what those words mean, learn them. Get into your Bible this week. Come ask questions after church. Come to Sunday school. Pray, and ask God to fill you with His Spirit, to lead you into all truth, and show you more of the glory of Jesus. Though the world will hate you, that’s how the Holy Spirit will help you persevere, not only to not fall away, but to joyfully persevere to the end, when you will see the glory of Jesus forever.