John 15:18–16:15: The Hatred of the World, the Work of the Holy Spirit
Modern day, Western Christians sometimes seem confused or bewildered when the world is against us, but we shouldn’t be. It’s been promised to us from the beginning. In fact, Jesus goes even farther than we do in our confusion and bewilderment, claiming that the world will hate us. However, we also have something the world doesn’t have: the Holy Spirit, who will strengthen and encourage us, even when the world is against us.
Let’s dig into another message from Jesus, from 15:18–16:15. This entire passage is Jesus speaking, so I’m not bothering with the quotation marks.
|15:18 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
|This first verse sets the stage for the passage very nicely1. In all of our confusion and bewilderment when things don’t go the way we’d like them to, we often forget that it’s not us the world is persecuting, it’s Jesus. We’re just His representatives.
|19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
|To extend the previous thought, if the world wasn’t persecuting us, it would probably be a sign that we were doing something wrong—that we were being too worldly. Another way to put that: the world does not like the message of Christ, so if the world likes the message we’re presenting, it either means we’re in the middle of a great revival or that we’re not properly presenting the message of Christ.
|20 Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
|Preachers often bring up the quote that “a servant is not greater than his master,” to remind us that if Jesus was persecuted, we will definitely be persecuted. (Sometimes even going farther: if we’re not being persecuted, are we doing something wrong?) However, I read this as being part of Jesus’ larger point that it’s not us they’re persecuting, it’s Him.
|21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause.”
|This is a good opportunity to point out that the “hatred of the world” doesn’t always come in the form of violence and government-sanctioned religious persecution and discrimination. Sometimes “hatred of the world” comes in the form of sneering at the Word of God. Sometimes it comes in the form of rejection that doesn’t look like rejection, as in when people say things like, “I believe that Jesus was a good teacher, but he wasn’t God, and it’s closed-minded to claim that Jesus is the only way to God—if there is a God.” I’ve mentioned a lot lately that you can’t really take bits and pieces of Jesus’ teachings in isolation; the claims He makes are too big, and the things He did were too marvelous, to try and treat him as a “good teacher” and nothing else.
|26 But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
|Modern day Christians haven’t been “with Jesus from the beginning,” but we do have the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us. So… we really should be bearing witness about Jesus!
|16:1 I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4a But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
|Does this section feel contradictory? Jesus says that the reason he’s telling the disciples all of this is so that they won’t fall away—and then immediately tells them about all the horrible stuff that will happen to them if they don’t fall away! But it makes sense: Part of the point of this passage is the fact that the world will persecute followers of Jesus; when that happens to us, we should remember that all of these things are happening for Jesus’ sake, and it should encourage us. If Jesus had never told all of this to his disciples (and it hadn’t been written down for us), and persecution happened—big or small—we’d all be left to wonder: “Where did that come from? We’re followers of Jesus—shouldn’t we be exempt from persecution?” But since we do have this passage, when we are persecuted we can say that we knew it was coming, and deal with it through the Holy Spirit.
|4b I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
|The persecution of Jesus’ followers didn’t start until after He was gone, so Jesus didn’t need to warn his disciples until they were on the verge of starting to experience it.
|5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are you going?”
|This is kind of ironic, because in the past when Jesus has talked about going away some of the disciples have asked “where are you going?” But that’s not what Jesus means here. I think he’s saying that the disciples are so focused on the fact that Jesus is going that where (and why) he’s going isn’t registering.
|6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
|Although Jesus said that he’s telling them these things so that they won’t fall away, they are, of course, sad that he’s leaving. If they understood properly where he was going, and what he was accomplishing, they’d be less sad about the fact that he’s leaving them.
This next part I’d like to cover a bit more thoroughly:
8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Firstly, Jesus doesn’t say what we want him to say here. What we want him to say is that, “The world will persecute you because of me, but I’m going to send you the Helper, and when He comes He will smite your enemies and show the world that you were right!” Instead, the first thing he says that the Spirit will do is convict the world concerning sin, which sounds like it’s going to make the persecution worse! (And, in fact, likely will.)
But let’s follow Jesus’ approach, and take these three things in order. The Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement:
- Sin: There are a lot of definitions Jesus could have used for “sinfulness,” but he just cut right to the chase: Sin is not believing in Him. The Spirit is not going to convict the world concerning sin because the world murders, or lies and cheats, or any of the other things that the world does that are sinful, the Spirit is simply going to convict the world for not believing in Jesus. Frankly, if the world were to believe in Jesus, all of those other sins would be forgiven!
- Righteousness: The world has a lot of definitions of what they mean by “righteousness” (though they would seldom use that word), but real righteousness is the sinless Son of God going to the cross and being crucified for our sakes, making us right with God.
- Judgement: I have a little more problem with this point, so I’m not saying this with a lot of confidence. Once again, Jesus doesn’t say what I expect him to say: I expect him to say, “concerning judgement, because they will be judged,” but instead he makes it about Satan: “concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.”2 I don’t think the vast majority of people in the world would think that Satan has anything to do with them! But Jesus does. He says that if they’re not following Him, they’re following the devil. But the devil has already come under God’s judgement, which is also where the world is, as long as they don’t follow Jesus.
And, of course, the world will never follow Jesus! Not as a whole. But individuals will, which is why we’re [supposed to be] so diligent about delivering the Gospel.
This last part is kind of more for the disciples than for us:
12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
We’ve seen on many occasions that Jesus’ disciples weren’t able to understand everything he was telling them—or to even understand that he was going to die—and part of the reason is that they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit. Starting in the book of Acts, and continuing on through the rest of the New Testament letters, we’ll see this promise from Jesus fulfilled as the Spirit enables the New Testament authors to bring out God’s teachings more clearly to us. What the disciples didn’t have in this particular moment we now have: the Holy Spirit.
Don’t lose sight of the importance of verse 14, though: the Spirit has a lot to teach us, will enable us to understand what we read in the Scriptures, and will even help us make decisions in our daily lives. This is all true. But the main job of the Spirit is to glorify God.
I know, I know, how generous of me to give my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ praise for his word choice… ↩︎
A quick note from the ESV Study Bible notes in the phrase “is judged” that Jesus uses, from the Greek: “is judged could also be translated ‘has been judged’; the perfect-tense verb kekritai (Gk.) has the sense of ‘has been judged and continues in the state resulting from that judgment.’” Satan was judged, and remains in judgement—it’s not something we need to wait to happen in the future. ↩︎