Despised by the World

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 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. 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. 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.’

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.” John 15:18-27 ESV

From the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus faced opposition. It began immediately after His baptism when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus, who had just received the blessing of His Heavenly Father, found Himself in a face-to-face confrontation with the prince of this world.

God had just pronounced Jesus as “my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but Satan saw Jesus as a powerful enemy who had to be distracted from His God-given mission or be destroyed. Satan attempted to disqualify Jesus by offering Him tempting alternatives to the will of God. He proffered a range of attractive options that were designed to distract Jesus from His ministry objective and render Him useless to God. But Jesus did not take the bait. As the author of Hebrews states, Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). 

But while Jesus had won the battle over Satan in the wilderness, the war was far from over. Satan simply shifted his tactics. Almost immediately, the enemy implemented a new and less direct strategy that utilized guerrilla warfare tactics. He called upon all the weapons at his disposal to wage war against God and His Son. Satan knew that Jesus was the Messiah and had been sent by God to free humanity from their life of bondage under his merciless rule. This was, as Paul made clear, a spiritual battle of epic proportions.

…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

But that does not mean that the battle remained invisible and relegated to the spiritual realm. This spiritual conflict quickly spilled over into the natural world as the enemy put into play those human agents who were under his control. The gospels provide ample evidence that Jesus faced human opposition to His ministry. And His most formidable and vehement foes proved to be the religious leaders of Israel. It is no coincidence that Jesus labeled these men as the sons of Satan.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

These men were revered by the common people as icons of righteousness and virtue. Yet, Jesus saw through their pious-looking facades and recognized them for what they were: deceptive hypocrites who stood opposed to His mission because they were enemies of God. Jesus exposed them for what they were.

“If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from GodAnyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 8:42, 47 NLT

They may have fooled the people, but Jesus was fully aware of their true identity and intentions.

“You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him.” – John 8:52 NLT

And His exposure of them only enraged them further. The more they saw of Jesus, the more angry they became. His messages and miracles failed to impress or persuade them. Ironically, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed and under the influence of Satan. And their growing revulsion to Jesus turned into an obsession to kill Him. They would stop at nothing to see to it that this madman from Nazareth was put to death.

Now, just hours from that perverted wish becoming a reality, Jesus informs His disciples that they could expect more of the same. As if all He has told them so far had not been enough, Jesus reveals that their relationship with Him has put a target on their backs. They were guilty by association, and they would find themselves hated for His sake. And while Jesus refers to the world as the source of that hatred, He is speaking of the same Jewish religious leaders who would orchestrate His death. And these men were representatives of the nation of Israel at large. That is why John opened his gospel account with the statement: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV).

Throughout this passage, Jesus uses the pronoun, “they.”

“…they will also persecute you…” – John 15:20 ESV

“…all these things they will do to you on account of my name.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they have no excuse for their sin. – John 15:23 ESV

“…they have seen and hated both me and my Father. – John 15:24 ESV

Then, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus reveals the identity of these individuals.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies. – Psalm 69:4 ESV

The “world” to which Jesus was referring was the nation of Israel. His own people hated Him without cause, and they were out to destroy Him. So, He wanted His disciples to know that they would suffer the same treatment because of His name.

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

The battle that had been raging since the beginning had always been about the identity of Jesus. That is what He means by “my name.” Jesus was the Son of God and everything He had done from the day of His baptism until that very moment had been intended to reveal His identity as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And the disciples, because they would continue to proclaim the name of Jesus in His absence, would find themselves facing the same level of animosity and opposition.

And because Jesus would later command them be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), they would face even greater opposition as Satan turned the entire world order against them. The disciples would eventually take the Gospel to the non-Jewish world and discover that the enemies of God were made up of Jews and Gentiles. While they would find those eager to hear and accept the message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they would also encounter fierce opposition. It is believed that all of the disciples eventually died as martyrs, after having faithfully spread the good news concerning Jesus to the world.

But as the disciples stood in the darkness of the garden, listening to these foreboding words from Jesus, they must have been filled with fear and trepidation. Jesus had just told them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). This must have brought to mind an earlier warning He had given them.

“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” – Luke 21:12-13 NLT

What Jesus was describing was unsettling and disturbing. It must have filled His poor disciples with despair and disillusionment. But Jesus wanted them to know that their relationship with Him had dramatically altered their lives for eternity. Nothing would ever be the same. Just three years ago, they had each been minding their own business, when an unknown and unimpressive Rabbi from Nazareth made their acquaintance. And their lives would never be the same. Little did they know at the time, that in choosing to follow Jesus they were leaving the world behind. Yes, they would still live in it, but they would no longer be part of it. By becoming friends with Jesus they had become enemies of the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

The Jewish religious leaders would turn their hatred for Jesus onto the disciples and any others who chose to follow Him. And as this small group of men and women grew in number and spread their influence from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth, Satan would throw everything in his arsenal against them. But little would he know that he was fighting a losing cause. The victory had been won. With Jesus’ death on the cross, He would bring an end to Satan’s vice-like grip on humanity. Jesus would conquer sin and death, bringing salvation to all those who would accept it.

And, anticipating His disciples’ sense of fear and foreboding, Jesus reminds them once again that they will not be alone.

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” – John 15:26-27 NLT

They were going to face intense opposition, but they would do so in the power of God. The world would hate them, but the love of God for them would protect them and flow from them. They would pick up the mantel of ministry given to them by Jesus and proclaim His name with boldness and joy – even in the face of persecution and the threat of death.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson