Persevering Through Persecution

by Justin Craft

“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.”  (John 15:19)

Read: John 15:18-16:15

At the start of his last teaching hour with the disciples before his death, Jesus told them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1). Similarly, in the passage for today, Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away” (16:1). Jesus is using these precious last hours with his disciples—before he goes back to the Father—to give them the confidence and assurances they will need to not fall away, both as they witness their Savior being killed by sinful men and in the decades after the ascension when they will not have Jesus physically present to turn to as they did during his earthly ministry. So, if Jesus’ purpose is to bolster his disciples’ confidence, why does he start talking about how much the world will hate them, how it will reject their words as it rejected his, and how they will even be killed by people claiming to be zealous for God (16:2)? How do those kinds warnings help the disciples with their confidence?

Our culture is averse to bad news. That’s not too strange since people don’t normally like bad news, especially when it directly concerns them. However, a problem in our culture is that aversion to bad news has led many people to do everything in their power to remain willfully ignorant of it. They reject that there is any bad news at all, even if they are in danger, and live as though everything is right in the world.

This impulse to ignore bad news is expressed most often with the problem of sin. Every person is born in sin (Ps 51:5). We are fallen creatures who are enemies with God, and there is nothing we can do to make that right (Rom 3:10-20). That’s the bad news, and apart from Christ, people deny this news with every fiber of their being, even when they are willing to superficially acknowledge their own sin and concede that the world is fallen.

Unfortunately, the culture’s general attitude toward sin has infected the thinking of some professing Christians. These folks try to to avoid telling unbelievers the bad news that God’s wrath currently hangs over their heads. But this approach to evanglism is foolish in the extreme. If people don’t hear about the bad news, or they reject the bad news, they will reject the good news because they don’t “need” it. If people don’t understand their sin and their inability to make themselves right with God, they will never believe that Jesus Christ is their only hope. They will never trust in his sacrificial death and his resurrection, which means they will be forever without hope.

Jesus, as God, knows that the world hates him and that it will hate his disciples.

Something similar to the example I just gave concerns our passage. As God, Jesus knows that the world hates him and that it will hate his disciples. Up to this point in their discipleship, they haven’t needed this knowledge because Jesus has been taking all of the heat, anger, and persecution himself (John 16:4). But now he’s returning to the Father. Where will all the hate land that used to be directed on Jesus now that he is no longer physically physically present on earth? All that hatred and persecution is going to land on his disciples. If they had no problem persecuting the Son of God—the God of life, the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, God himself—they will not have any problem murdering those who follow him. In fact, since they will be viewed as a heretical sect of Judaism, those who murder them will be doing so thinking that they are worshipping God as they do it (John 16:2)! That’s really bad news.

But what if Jesus, out of a desire to spare their feelings, didn’t tell them about what was going to happen to them in the future? That would be horrible. They would go and share the gospel only to be beaten for it, and they would wonder, “Wait, why did that happen? Why aren’t people coming to Christ and being saved, and why are they calling us heretics?” They would have been far worse off had Christ never told them about what to expect as his followers.

But, now that he has told them what to anticipate, they are prepared mentally and spiritually. And when the Helper comes, whom Christ is sending to them, they will be at an even greater advantage than when Christ was in their presence because God himself will be dwelling within them, empowering them to persevere and continue on in in faithfulness, abiding in the love of Christ (John 16:7).

Not only that, but the Holy Spirit will teach and work through them to convict the world, continuing the work of Christ who exposed the works of darkness. That is what will calm their fears. That is good news. Though there will be pain, they are not alone, and they can live the life of faith that receives God’s commendation (Heb 11:2). That same good news is for all of Christ’s disciples throughout time, including us today. Yes, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), but we know to expect and prepare for that, and we have a great Savior who has not left us alone, but who has given us his Spirit who comforts, empowers, teaches, guides, and carries us through it all.

Discuss and Pray Together: Take a little bit of time to talk about persecution, why it happens, why the world hates Christ and his disciples, and how God uses persecution not only for the Christian’s good but for the world’s good (a good passage for this is Acts 8:1-8). Then end your time by praying for Christians around the world who live in countries that actively persecute Christians.  

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