John 15:18-27

John 15:18-25     Future Persecutions

The tone of the Discourse would change. Jesus would look beyond relationships within the community to consider their interaction with the world. 

18 “If the world hates you,
be quite clear that it hated me before you.

The world is not to be understood, in this instance, as the sum of real people other than Christians, but as people in their social and religious systems – with their narrowly focussed and rivalistic dynamics, energies and attitudes. Yet, the world is not all sinful. As the Prologue had stated, Everything came into being through him the Word [1:3]. The problem lies in people’s belonging to the world, rather than in their being in the world and critically alert to its dynamics. The distinction would be addressed more clearly as the narrative continued [17:15-18]. 

The disciples had some awareness of the danger in which they lived. Jesus had already been threatened with death [10:39; 11:53-54]. They, in turn, had faced the possibility of their being killed along with him [11:16]. Jesus’ comment would hardly have sounded reassuring. Yet, it was important that the disciples face reality and not retire into some unreal world. The promises of peace and joy that Jesus had proposed beforehand still held good, even against the backdrop of probable persecution.

19 If you were from this world,
the world would love you as one of its own.
But because you are not from this world,
because I have selected you out of this world,
the world hates you accordingly.
20 Remember how I said to you,
‘Servants are not greater than their master’.
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you;
if they cherished my message, they will cherish yours.

Opposition from a sinful world was inevitable. The danger would be that the world’s hatred of disciples would trigger the disciples’ hatred of the world. Throughout history, violence has consistently led to counter-violence. The power of evil is seductive and strong.

21 They will do all this to you on account of me
because they have not known the one who sent me.

The core issue is always theological; people behave as they do because they do not recognise the God revealed in Jesus. Hatred is the behavioural working out of disbelief. People’s behaviour flows from their sense of God. Those whose sense of God has somehow been perverted do not turn to God spontaneously. Conversion begins from a change in people's sense of God. As people come to sense God as one whose love is totally unconditional, their conversion deepens correspondingly.

22 If I had not come and spoken to them,
they would have no sin.
But now they have no excuse for their sin.
23 Those who hate me, hate my Father.

The Beloved Disciple had been totally fascinated by Jesus. He could not understand how or why others did not respond with the same fascination. He believed it could only have been because of bad faith, and sin – for which, in his mind, there was no conceivable excuse. It is important to remember that the Beloved Disciple did not see sin so much as a failure of moral behaviour, as of insight into, and response to, the true nature of God revealed in Jesus. Had people experienced, or even searched for, the heart and mind of God – either in their Scriptures or in their lives – they would have recognised the truth of Jesus.

24 If I had not done in their presence
deeds that no one else has done,
they would have no sin.
Now they have seen and hated both me and my Father -

Jesus referred again to his deeds, not so much the concrete things he had done, but the obvious love and sensitivity that had shone through them. Open minds could not have been other than challenged to wonder about the source of the merciful energy of Jesus, and to have come to the conclusion, reached by the Beloved Disciple, that Jesus was necessarily “of God”. Neither the words Jesus had spoken, nor the deeds he did, had succeeded in breaking through the hard shell of unbelief.

A problem for contemporary readers is that the Beloved Disciple seemed to categorise reality as a contrast of opposites. For him, life was black or white, as though the division between world and Christian community was absolute. Yet, no Christian community or any individual disciple is ever totally converted – Christian life is always a lifelong process.

25 … and thereby the scriptural word written in their law
took shape literally,
‘They hated me without reason’.

Consistently concerned to nurture the faith of his community, the Beloved Disciple turned to the Scriptures (with which they were familiar) to claim there a clear precedent for the rejection of Jesus. The quotation he used can be found in two different psalms:

Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me,
or those who hate me without cause wink the eye [Psalm 35:19].


More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause [Psalm 69:4].

The Gospel used the phrase their law. The persecuting world would be, in fact, the self-styled defenders of that law, the Jewish leadership. The quotation served to indicate that, in persecuting Jesus, the Jewish leaders were, in fact, ignoring their law – as were those Pharisees who later persecuted the members of the Beloved Disciple’s community.

John 15:26-27     Third Promise of the Spirit

Witness to Truth

26 When the Paraclete comes,
whom I shall send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will bear witness to me.

The context of testifying and bearing witness carried the “feel” of courtroom and trial (in which context the translation Advocate for Paraclete was appropriate). The further reference to the Paraclete repeated what had been noted before [14:17 and 26]: that the Paraclete

  • comes from the Father,
  • is sent by Jesus,
  • and is the Spirit of truth
  • who testifies on behalf of Jesus.
27 You, too, will bear witness,
since you have been with me right from the start.

The text assumed that the Paraclete would bear witness in and through the disciples on Jesus’ behalf. (The following chapter would clarify further the Paraclete’s work in relation to the world [16:13-15].)

The witness of the Spirit of truth, however, would be understood as truthful, not by unbelievers, but by those who opened themselves to reality.

The mission of the disciples, accompanied and strengthened by the Paraclete, would be to witness to the world (and the Jewish leadership) the truth of Jesus – precisely in the face of their opposition.

Next >> John 16:1-4