The World’s Hatred of Believers John 15:18-27
When I became a believer in Christ, I expected that those closest to me would also accept Him. Once they have the truth about Jesus, I reasoned, they will immediately open their hearts to Him. How can they not see the reasonableness of accepting Him? It didn’t happen that way. They not only didn’t open their hearts to Him, but they reacted with hostility toward me. At the time, I couldn’t understand their antagonism and, as a result, I was greatly discouraged and confused. It wasn’t until I discovered the truths laid out in John 15 and 16 that I began to understand why unbelievers often react with such hostility toward believers.
John 14-16 is commonly referred to as the “Farewell Discourse of Christ.” In these chapters Jesus gave His disciples truths to prepare them for His departure. They were troubled by His words about leaving them (Jn. 13:33; 14:1), and Jesus gave them promise upon promise to comfort and encourage them. He related to them such things as His return for them (14:2-3), the greater works they would be able to do during the Church Age (14:12), the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (14:16-17) and their ability to bear much spiritual fruit (15:5, 16).
Jesus knew, though, that with all these wonderful promises being given to them, the disciples would get the wrong idea. They would begin to conclude that the Church Age would be a “breeze,” a “piece of cake,” without any problems or difficulties. Therefore, in order to protect His disciples from misunderstanding the nature of the Church and being disillusioned by the world’s opposition to them and their message, Jesus gave them a lesson on the world’s hatred of Christians. Just as these truths were intended to protect the apostles, so they can protect us from being blown away every time we encounter persecution for Christ’s sake. In John 15:18-27, Jesus gave three principles concerning the world’s hatred of Christians. An understanding of these principles will prepare us to face this hostility with a proper perspective rather than be intimidated.
The Reality of the World’s Hatred
Our Lord introduced His disciples to the subject of the world’s hatred for them by first referring to its reality. He said, “If the world hate you [and the implication is that it certainly will hate you], ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (v. 18). There is one word in this sentence that opens up the whole meaning of our Lord’s statement. In fact, an understanding of this word is fundamental to grasping anything else that goes along with this passage of Scripture. The word that unlocks the door to our understanding is “world.” The Greek language has a number of different words that can be translated “world,” so it is important to identify the meaning of the term Jesus used. The Greek word used in John 15 is kosmos, and refers to an orderly arrangement. We get our English word cosmetics from kosmos, because cosmetics help to put a women’s face in order. When Jesus spoke of the world, however, He was referring to an evil system which is arranged in an organized way and has Satan as its god (2 Cor. 4:4). Its citizens are unbelievers under Satan’s influence (Eph. 2:1-3). Its goal is to enthrone Satan and everything that he stands for, and to dethrone Christ and everything that He stands for. Basically, then, when our Lord spoke of the world, He was referring to that wicked system which is opposed to Him, His truths, His kingdom and His people. It is organized society without God. It has its own morals, standards and values.
Our Lord is making the point that the disciples should not be surprised by the world’s hatred toward them, because the world has always hated Christ. From the time of His birth when Herod tried to kill Him (Mt. 2:16), until they finally put Him on a cross, the world had been venting its anger against Christ. This anger, though, wasn’t satisfied with Christ’s death. It continues today and is directed at everyone who follows Jesus. No committed believer is going to be admired, well-liked or accepted by the world’s evil, Satan-controlled system. Instead, he will be ostracized, ridiculed, disliked and sometimes even physically abused. All of us struggle at times with peer pressure. We want to be liked by everyone, but if we are committed to a lifestyle of obedience to Christ, the world isn’t going to like us. They are going to hate us. Just knowing that fact ought to free us from the pressure that comes from trying to gain the world’s acceptance and respect. There is no question about it, the world does indeed hate believers. But why do they hate us?
The Reasons for the World’s Hatred
There are basically three interrelated reasons that the world vents its wrath against Christians. Jesus gave the first reason for the world’s hostility in verse 19 when He stated, “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Once we were a part of the world’s system, and we were well accepted. There was no reason why we shouldn’t have been accepted. We did the things the world approved of. We had similar goals, values, standards and perspectives. There was mutual affection due to a similar mindset that reinforced each other’s outlook on life.
All of that changed, however, the moment we left the system. We turned our backs on that system when we turned to the Lord Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation. Paul wrote of this experience in Colossians 1:13 when he said, “Who hath delivered us from the power[domain] of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” He expressed this same truth to the Galatians by telling them that the Lord Jesus Christ “. . . gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age . . .” (Gal. 1:4). The world hates us now because we have let them and, by leaving them, we have passed judgment upon them. In accepting Jesus Christ, we have rejected the world’s system, and our very commitment to Him gives testimony to our disapproval of the world’s system. Our lifestyle, as new creatures in Christ, is a rebuke to the evil of the world’s system. The world cannot handle this rebuke, and they lash out in hatred.
It really shouldn’t surprise us when unbelievers are hostile toward us. As “children of light” (Eph. 5:8), we are different from the children of darkness. We have different goals, different aspirations, different values, different perspectives and a different moral and ethical standard. Righteous behavior has always brought persecution. The Apostle John said that Cain killed Abel because Cain’s deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous (1 Jn. 3:12). This was not an isolated incident in history, but an eternal principle. That is the reason John followed that example with the words, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 Jn. 3:13). Righteous living goes against the grain of unbelievers, because it reveals a distinction between Christ and His holy standards and the world and its unholy standards.
Sadly, many believers have never experienced the world’s wrath. Their lives do not indicate a distinction between them and the world’s citizens. If you live like the world, you will be loved by the world. But the Word of God calls us to be different – not because we are gluttons for punishment, but because we aren’t a part of the evil system anymore. John made this distinction clear in 1 John 5:19 when he said, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness [the power of the evil one].” Paul urged the Christians at Rome not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2), and he informed Timothy that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Paul didn’t mean that persecution would necessarily be a daily occurrence for a committed disciple but, rather, that godly living would inevitably lead to incidents of persecution. A lack of persecution, however, may indicate a lack of godly living. This was the fear of the famous Methodist preacher, John Wesley. One day while Wesley was riding his horse along the road, it dawned on him that he hadn’t been persecuted for the last three days. Immediately he stopped his horse and exclaimed, “Can it be that I have sinned and am backslidden?” Wesley got down from his horse and began to pray, asking God to show him if his lack of persecution was due to any unconfessed sin. While he was on his knees before God, an unsaved man passing by recognized him as the preacher he disliked. The man picked up a brick and tossed it at Wesley. It missed the evangelist, but John Wesley saw it as an answer to prayer. “Thank God,” he exclaimed, “it’s all right, I.still have His presence.” You probably won’t die for your faith, or even have a brick thrown at you, but if you live for Christ, you will be persecuted. What kind of daily behavior leads to today’s persecution? A refusal to laugh at dirty jokes told in the office can lead to being stereotyped as an “oddball” or a “prude.” If you don’t go out drinking with your business associates, you might be labeled “preacher” or
“deacon.” When you refuse to cheat a customer, your boss might fire you or at least ensure that you don’t get the promotion you deserved. It is this type of godly behavior that shows the world that we are different and ignites their hatred toward us.
The second reason for the world’s hatred is mentioned by Jesus in verse 20, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” The world has nothing against us personally, but it hates Christ. Since we are His representatives in the world, we become the object of their hatred. The world has already killed Christ. They can’t touch Him. He can’t be persecuted. Therefore, we are persecuted in place of our Master because, as servants of Christ, we remind the world of Him, and they cannot stand Him. Their hatred for Christ was not satisfied by the crucifixion. Men still hate Jesus Christ and, given the opportunity, they would nail Him to the cross again.
Why does mankind have such a deep-rooted hostility toward Jesus Christ? The answer to that question constitutes the third reason the world hates the believer. Jesus told His disciples why He was hated so much when He said, “But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.” (v. 21). The reason Jesus is hated is because
mankind has deliberately rejected the knowledge of God. In Romans, chapter one, the Apostle Paul explains that man has suppressed the truths God has revealed about Himself through nature. The world stands in defiance to divine revelation and refuses to glorify God (Rom. 1:21). The world does not want to know God, and that is why they hate the believer. We are identified with the truths of God, and the world does not want to have anything to do with God’s truth. They will do everything in their power to suppress the truth – even if it means persecuting those who love and live the truth.
Proof of the fact that the world does not want to know God is that when God became a man and dwelt among them, they rejected Him. That is the point of Christ’s words to His disciples in verses 22-24. They illustrate the truth that the world is willfully ignorant of God. Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak [excuse] for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” The Lord was not saying that if He had never come, men wouldn’t be guilty of sin. They were sinners before He came. Jesus was referring to their guilt of a specific sin -the sin of rejecting the full revelation of God. In essence, He was saying, In coming, I perfectly revealed God to you by My words, My works and My life. By your rejection of Me, you have become guilty of the sin of rejecting God’s full revelation of Himself.
By observing Jesus Christ and rejecting Him, the world’s mask of hypocrisy was ripped off. The Jewish religious leaders and their followers claimed to love God, but when God appeared in their midst in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, they revealed their true attitude toward God by crucifying Him. They did not want anything to do with Him and all along were successfully hiding this hatred behind their religious and legalistic observances until Jesus unmasked them.
Today we see the same thing. Many people hide their hatred for God behind their religious activities, church attendance, tithing and morality. Faced with the claims of Christ, they reject them, and their true attitude toward God becomes apparent Their rejection of Christ is indicative of their hidden antagonism toward God. The world resents Christ’s life lived out in a Christian, because it exposes their religious hypocrisy and forces them into open antagonism toward God.
The truth about the world’s hatred toward God was a lesson I learned many years ago. As an unconverted college student, I decided to explore the New Testament to discover for myself the claims of Jesus Christ. All my life I had been told to avoid anything that involved Christ, and that motivated me to find out what was so terrible about this Man. To my surprise, I could not find anything in the New Testament that indicted Him. In fact, I found myself greatly attracted to His manner of life and His message. My friends’ reactions to my discoveries were anything but favorable. They expressed such unwarranted criticism of Christ that it only served to drive me into a deeper study of His person and work.
Jesus Christ makes men face their true spiritual condition. Our attitude toward Christ indicates our attitude toward God. Hatred of Christ reveals our wrath toward God, but God has a way of using man’s wrath to praise Him. Such is the case with the world’s hatred of Christ. Their hatred is actually a fulfillment of Scripture. Quoting Psalm 35:19 and 69:4, which speak of hatred lacking any foundation, Jesus said, “But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (v. 25). In the Old Testament, God predicted the world’s hatred of Messiah, and by it He accomplished His plan of salvation. God didn’t force anyone to reject Christ. He only predicted that they would. Men crucified Jesus because they were sinners and hated the righteousness of God, not because there was any sin in Christ to despise.
The Response to the World’s Hatred
We have learned that the world hates us and stands opposed to us. What should be our response to their hostility? Should we retreat and isolate ourselves from unbelievers? ls silence the best approach? Our Lord’s next few words to His disciples clearly tell us how a believer should face an angry world. The proper response to everything the world can throw at us is to bear witness of Christ. Jesus said in verses 26 and 27, “. . . when the Comforter [Helper] is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me; And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” We are to tell this Christ-hating world the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. As we present the gospel to unbelievers, we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will also be at work internally bearing witness for Christ. Our task is to present the gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can convince someone of the truth about Christ (Jn. 16:7-8). Even though the world hates us and persecutes us, we are not to strike back in retaliation, nor are we to withdraw from the world and associate ourselves only with other Christians. l will never forget the time I visited a home Bible study and heard someone say, “I prefer witnessing to saved people.” What a cop·out! Saved people do not need our witnessing. They are already in the family of God. It is the unbelieving, hostile world that needs to be evangelized. The Lord calls us to lovingly reach out to this world of Christ·haters by living godly in their midst and verbally confronting them with the truths about Jesus Christ. Our responsibility to a world that despises us and Christ is to tell them about Him. His plan is to bring them to Himself. You and l, just like the original disciples, are His tools to accomplish this. May we be faithful, while the Master is away, in carrying out His assigned task of communicating to a world filled with Christ-haters that God so loved them that He gave His only begotten Son for their salvation (Jn. 3:16).
Steve Kreloff is the Pastor/Teacher of Lakeside Community Chapel in Clearwater, Florida. The emphasis of his ministry is the expository teaching of God’s Word. A Hebrew Christian, he met the Lord Jesus Christ while a student at the University of South Florida and studied for the ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL. He and his wife, Michele, have three children, Benjamin, Sarah and Rachel.