But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. – John 17:13-16 ESV
As difficult as it was for the disciples to accept Jesus’ admission that He was going to die, it had to be even more unsettling when, after His resurrection, He told them He was going away. They had just gotten Him back from the dead, a fact that had been hard for them to accept initially. But once they had come to grips with the amazing realization that He was alive, He told them that He was leaving. They would be on their own. Left behind to continue the work He had begun. It all had to be a bit overwhelming and confusing. Jesus had known it would be, which is why His prayer for them contained a request that His Father keep them from the evil one. He knew they were going to face all kinds of opposition for His name’s sake. As His followers, they were no longer “of the world.” They had become citizens of another Kingdom. But for the foreseeable future they were going to be ambassadors for Christ in this world. Jesus was leaving them behind to continue spreading the news of salvation that His death was going to make possible. The apostle Paul understood that mission well. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). The disciples and all those who would follow them, have been given the ministry of reconciliation. It is our job to tell the world about how to be made right with God. We have been left behind for a reason. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 29:19 ESV).
So we have a job to do. But we have not been left alone or defenseless. Jesus prayed for us. Yes, we are hated by the world because we are not of this world anymore. We are foreigners and sojourners. We are like aliens living in a strange land. We don’t really belong here anymore, but we have a mission to accomplish. And not only does the world hate us, the prince of this world, Satan, is out to destroy us. He despises and loathes us because we are children of God, which is why Jesus asked the Father to keep us from him. The two big threats we face as believers are complacency or compromise. If Satan can get us to lose the urgency of our God-given mission and make it a back-burner issue, he has won. If he can get our faith in Christ to become just another add-on to our already busy lives, he will have made us ineffective and essentially powerless. But another threat we face is compromise. If Satan can get us to fall in love with the world and seek our satisfaction and sufficiency from all that it offers, it will render us useless for the cause of Christ. The apostle John warned, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). It is virtually impossible to effectively serve God’s Kingdom when we are in love with this one. Compromise and complacency are deadly temptations for each of us as believers. So Jesus prayed that God would keep us from the evil one. He wanted us to remain loyal to our God and faithful to our commission, right up until the end. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are not of this world. We are citizens of another Kingdom. We serve another King. We live according to a different set of standards or rules. But not only are we citizens of a different Kingdom, we are children of the King. In fact, Paul would have us remember, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 ESV).
Jesus knew that life on this earth for His followers would be difficult after His departure. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit. He is to be our comforter, helper, guide, and source of spiritual strength. Jesus understood the dangers and difficulties His followers would face. But He also knew that His Father was fully capable of caring for them and keeping them safe. Our salvation was completely God’s doing. Our sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness is His doing as well. Our safekeeping and security as His children is up to God as well. He has not and will not lose a single one He has redeemed. Our faith is secure, not because we live up to a certain standard or keep ourselves from committing certain sins, but because God holds us in His hands and will never let us go. While we live in this world, we must constantly remind ourselves that our real home is with Him. He has saved us so that we might be with Him. Jesus even told His disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4 ESV).