A couple of years ago, Jeannette and I had the delightful opportunity to visit our friends Bill and Marilyn McRae at their cabin on Loon Call Lake in Ontario. We were there in the Fall, just as the leaves were changing color. It was an absolutely breathtaking sight. Except for one other person we saw some distance away, the four of us seemed to be the only people remaining at the lake. There were many summer homes along the lake, but virtually everyone had gone back to the city before winter arrived. There was a piece of property for sale across the cove from Bill and Marilyn, and I began to ponder all that could be done with such a place. I was especially fascinated with the thought of spending the entire winter there on the lake. I happened to mention this “winter fantasy” as an “old timer” was standing nearby. I could see his expression change noticeably when I spoke. I didn’t have long to wait to learn what he was thinking. He simply said to me, “You haven’t ever spent a winter up here, have you?”
No, I hadn’t. I was entertaining fantasies of curling up in a cozy chair, looking out over the ice-covered lake, protected from the elements by a quaint little cabin, with a cheerful fire crackling nearby in the fireplace. The snow that fell would provide me with the opportunity to do all kinds of exciting things. I could almost hear the roar of the engine of a ski mobile, with Jeannette seated behind me, clinging to me for dear life and shouting, “Bob, slow down!” (She’s been there before!) For exercise, we could go ice skating on the frozen surface of the lake. And then, of course, I would get down to work, diligently pecking away at the keyboard of my (large and powerful) computer, recording profound biblical thoughts for posterity.
That Canadian fellow had me pretty well sized up. He knew I had no idea what I was talking about. In spite of all my romanticized ideas about spending the winter on a Canadian lake, there was a harsh reality that I knew nothing about, because I hadn’t experienced it. To him, spending the winter on that lake meant having to thaw frozen pipes, and enduring cold, bone-chilling nights—and days! It meant going out to the car and finding a dead battery. It inevitably entailed going without power for days at a time. From his own experience, this fellow could vividly recall shaving with ice cold water, living and sleeping in multiple layers of clothing, and staying within a few feet of the fireplace, not only for the little bit of warmth it would provide, but also to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner (hot dogs, again).
When I come to our text, I must confess that the subject of persecution is something else I know almost nothing about. I am told there are more martyrs for the Christian faith today than ever before. And for all those who are killed, there are many others who are allowed to live, so that their persecution can be prolonged. From what I have read, I know that at this very hour, Christians in Egypt are facing intense persecution. This is often the case in those countries where Muslim fundamentalists are in power. In India, many Christians are experiencing persecution at the hands of zealous Hindus, something that was virtually unknown just a few years ago. I must confess that the worst persecution I have faced personally is a little scoffing (when I taught school in a medium security prison), or an uplifted eyebrow. As I approach this passage, aware of the suffering of many of my fellow-believers in distant places, I must readily admit that Christians in America are the exception to the rule, knowing very little of suffering solely for being a Christian. Though the words of our Lord may sound distant and foreign to us, one never knows how soon the day will come when believers here may experience the very things of which our Lord speaks in our text. We should listen well, not only to sympathize with our fellow-saints, but to prepare ourselves for the days to come.
Jesus and His disciples have just observed the Passover. Judas has already gone out, setting in motion his final acts of the betrayal of Jesus. Jesus has shocked His disciples by telling them that He is leaving them behind, and that they will not be able to follow Him immediately. The disciples have been shaken by our Lord’s words that one of them is about to betray Him, and that Peter is going to deny Him, repeatedly. They have asked a number of questions, but it is very clear that they have no grasp of what is about to happen to Jesus, or to them.
In the first half of chapter 15, Jesus has instructed His disciples to “abide in Him.” In our text, He does not turn to a different subject, but rather to a different aspect of abiding. Abiding in Christ is the source of our life, our fruit-bearing, and of our fellowship, both with God and with our fellow Christians. Abiding in Him is also the reason the world will hate us. The same hatred for Jesus which prompts unbelievers to call for His crucifixion will soon be vented upon those who have identified with Jesus, and through whom our Lord will continue to work in this world. And so Jesus turns to the subject of persecution, and the ministry of His Spirit, who will not only give His disciples joy in the midst of their afflictions, but who will enable them to witness and to reap a harvest of souls from among those who hate both Jesus and those who abide in Him.
Let us listen well to these last words of our Lord, to find comfort and courage in the face of rejection and persecution from an unbelieving world.
17 “This I command you—to love one another.58 18 If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’59 If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.”
I remember a song that was popular when I was growing up. The words of the song went something like this:
Everybody loves a lover
I’m a lover
Everybody loves me60
This is not a song that would have been sung by the disciples after the crucifixion of our Lord. They were commanded to be lovers—that is, to love one another—but this did not mean that they would be loved by the world. Quite the opposite is indicated by our Lord.
In verse 17, Jesus once again commands His disciples to love one another (see also, John 13:34, 35; 15:12-13). If they truly are abiding in Christ, then they will keep His commandments, and the most emphatic commandment He has given them so far is that they love one another. There is a very good reason why this command is repeated in verse 17:
9 “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. 10 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will appear and deceive many; 12 and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the person who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14).
Abiding in Christ has many benefits, but one of the painful side effects is that because the world hates our Lord, it will likewise hate us. Thus, the abiding in Christ which produces a love for the brethren also incites the hatred of unbelievers towards us.
In the very near future, “the world”61 will manifest its hatred toward our Lord’s disciples. For a short time, this animosity toward the disciples will be predominantly Jewish.62 As the Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus, they will likewise reject and oppose His followers. In verse 2 of chapter 16, Jesus tells His disciples that they will be put out of the synagogue. I take it that the temple is not mentioned here because our Lord knows full well that it will be destroyed in 70 A. D., which may have occurred before the Gospel of John was written (see Matthew 23:34-38; Mark 13:1-2). Considerable Jewish persecution of Christians is documented in the Book of Acts (see Acts 4:1ff.; 5:17ff.; 6:8ff.; 8:1; 13:45ff.; 14:2ff.; 14:19ff.). It wasn’t long before Gentiles likewise opposed the spread of the gospel (see Acts 16:19ff.; 19:23ff.). I believe that while the disciples had experienced some resistance and opposition previously (see John 5:16), the crucifixion of our Lord seems to unleash a storm of bitter opposition from the Jews, similar to what happened after the stoning of Stephen (see Acts 8:1). The “triumphal entry,” just a few days earlier, may have given the disciples a false sense of success and acceptance, but this popularity would prove to be very short-lived.
Our Lord’s words to His disciples not only indicate that they will experience great persecution from “the world,” they also explain just why this hostility will be unleashed on them. Abiding in Christ will result in the “fruit” of being Christ-like. Thus, when the world observes Jesus living in and through His disciples, unbelievers will respond to them just as they once responded to the Lord Jesus. When this happens, the disciples are to recall that the world hated their Master first. If those who followed Jesus were to abide in the world, rather than to abide in Christ, the world would embrace them as one of their own. But since Jesus has chosen to snatch them out of the world, the world will hate them, just as it hated Him.
Later on we can see that Peter grasped the meaning of our Lord’s words because he virtually repeats the essence of what our Lord says to His disciples in his first epistle:
3 For the time that has passed was sufficient for you to do what the non-Christians desire. You lived then in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, carousing, boozing, and wanton idolatries. 4 So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you (1 Peter 4:3-4).
Jesus wants His disciples to understand that others will respond to them in one of two ways. Those who reject the Lord Jesus will reject His disciples and persecute them. Those who accept Jesus as their Messiah will also accept them:
19 “I am telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I am he. 20 I tell you the solemn truth, whoever accepts the one I send accepts me, and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me” (John 13:19-20).
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. But they no longer have any excuse for their sin. 23 The one who hates me hates my Father too. 24 If I had not performed among them the miraculous deeds that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen the deeds and have hated both me and my Father. 25 Now this happened to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without reason.’ 26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father63—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me; 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Jesus speaks about guilt for sin, a guilt for which there is no excuse. The “sinners” are simply referred to as “they” (verses 22, 24-25). John tells us of this sin of unbelief at the very beginning of his Gospel:
10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him (John 1:10-11).
Jesus’ words in verse 23 would be absolutely shocking and scandalous to the Jews: “The one who hates me hates my Father too.”
The Jews falsely assumed that they had a relationship with God, based upon: (1) their ancestry, namely the fact that Abraham was their forefather (see Matthew 3:9-10; John 8:33ff.); and (2) their keeping of the Law of Moses, at least by their definition of it (see Matthew 5:20; Romans 2:17–3:20). Ironically, they accused Jesus of being just the opposite: (1) that He was an illegitimate child (John 8:41), and (2) that He was a law-breaker and a sinner (John 5:18; 9:16, 24; 18:30-31). They claimed God as their father and were incensed when Jesus claimed God was His Father (John 5:17ff.; 8:31ff.). Jesus now indicates that if anyone hates Him, they also hate the Father. How incredible! The very ones who believe that they love God have demonstrated that they hate Him, and the proof of this is the fact that they hate Jesus.
How is it that apart from our Lord’s coming and speaking to them, they would not be guilty of sin? Does Paul not argue in Romans that all men are sinners, rightly condemned by God (Romans 3:9-23)? How, then, can Jesus say that apart from His coming and the words He has spoken, the Jews would have no sin? Let me suggest a solution. In every dispensation (regardless of what that number might be), God establishes a clear standard of righteousness, which all men fail, thus proving themselves to be sinners, condemned by God, and desperately in need of grace. The Law of Moses proved men to be sinners under the old covenant; Jesus’ coming and rejection by men would prove men to be sinners under the new covenant. Jesus is the ultimate, consummate, revelation of the righteousness of God. To reject Him is to reject God the Father. To reject Him is to demonstrate the immensity of one’s sin.
Put differently, all men since Adam and Eve were born sinners, and their lives have shown it. But, as Paul tells us, apart from the law, they could not be charged with sin. Sin is lawlessness, and thus there must be a law that is broken for one to be charged with sin:
12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed (Romans 5:12-14).
Jesus is the “Light of the world,” the ultimate revelation of God (John 1:4-5, 9; see also Hebrews 1:1-3). By His life and His words, Jesus revealed God to men. When men reject Jesus Christ, they reject the ultimate revelation of God. The rejection of Jesus as the Son of God (whom He claimed to be) is compelling evidence of one’s sin and guilt. In this “new covenant” age, men’s sin or righteousness is evidenced by their response to Jesus Christ. Confronted with Jesus, the people of Israel had to make a decision. The decision to reject Him—indeed, to crucify Him—was proof of how sinful they were. The same standard, of course, applies to the Gentiles.
Jesus is even more specific about the sin of the Jews. Jesus had not merely mingled with the Jews, He had performed countless miracles as they looked on: “Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
In spite of these compelling proofs of His identity, they still rejected Him. In so doing, they hated both Jesus and the Father. It was our Lord’s words, as well as His works, which proved the truth of His claim to be Israel’s Messiah, God incarnate. The ultimate sin is not just to break the law, which partially reveals the righteousness of God. The ultimate sin is to reject Him who is the full revelation of God, Jesus Christ, and to crucify Him as a sinner, deserving the penalty of death.
Was this rejection of the Messiah something completely unexpected? Was God caught off guard by the unbelief of the Jews? Far from it! It was all a part of His plan (see Romans 9–11). Indeed, in rejecting Jesus without cause, the Jews were fulfilling prophecy, which foretold of His rejection without a cause:
Let them not rejoice over me who are wrongfully my enemies; Nor let them wink with the eye who hate me without a cause (Psalm 35:19, NKJV, emphasis mine).
Those who hate me without a cause Are more than the hairs of my head; They are mighty who would destroy me, Being my enemies wrongfully; Though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore it (Psalm 69:4, NKJV, emphasis mine).
It was, in fact, God’s plan to employ Jewish unbelief as the occasion to bring the gospel to the Gentiles:
11 I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their transgression means riches for the world and their defeat means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness bring? … 28 In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you formerly were disobedient to God, but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience so that he may show mercy to all (Romans 11:11-12, 28-32).
This opposition and persecution should not cause the disciples to withdraw or retreat. It will be their task not only to abide in Christ, but to proclaim Christ to the world that hates Him, and them. How can Jesus possibly expect His disciples to testify to the world with all this hostility and persecution? He gives them and us the answer. He will send His Holy Spirit, who will testify about Christ through them. The disciples have been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry, and thus they have witnessed the hand of God on His life and ministry. As they testify about Him, the Holy Spirit will facilitate their witness:
26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me; 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (verses 26-27).
1 “I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you will remember that I told you about them.”
Jesus was always very open and direct about the cost of discipleship with those who wished to follow Him:
23 Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man be will ashamed of this one when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26, see also verses 57-62).
We know from the parable of the four soils (see Mark 4:1-20) that those who were surprised by their sufferings did stumble over them (4:17). Jesus does not want His disciples to be taken by surprise, and so He tells them about the difficulties which lie ahead for them as His disciples. These men will be rejected by their fellow-Jews, put out of the synagogue, and even put to death. And the irony of all this is that when their opponents do such things, they will actually suppose that they are serving God by their opposition to Christ and His disciples.64
Who better illustrates this than Saul, before his conversion?
“I persecuted this Way even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison” (Acts 22:4).
9 “Of course, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem: not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons by the authority I received from the chief priests, but I also cast my vote against them when they were sentenced to death. 11 I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to force them to blaspheme. Because I was so furiously enraged at them, I went to persecute them even in foreign cities” (Acts 26:9-11; see also 1 Timothy 1:12-16).
Up to this moment in time, the disciples had not experienced anything like this kind of persecution in the time they had spent with Jesus. Jesus’ warnings here about future persecution are prophetic. His purpose in telling them these things now is so that when this persecution comes to pass, they will not be shocked, as though it were unexpected, but rather they will be able to remember that He had told them these things would happen to them. Thus, their faith will not be shaken (they won’t be “caused to stumble”), but will be strengthened.
“I did not tell you these things from the beginning because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Instead your hearts are filled with sadness because I have said these things to you. 7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had warned the disciples generally about coming persecution, but there was no need then to be as specific as He is now. He was with them, then. He will not be with them physically when they undergo the persecution of which He now speaks. He will be with them “in spirit,” or, better yet, “in the Spirit.” The disciples appear to be in a state of emotional shock. They are overwhelmed with sadness. There seems to be nothing to say. Think of it. Jesus is going to leave them,65 and when He does, they are not only going to be forsaken by their own people, they are going to hunted down by them as though they were criminals.
Jesus notes the fact that His disciples are not now asking Him where He is going. Earlier, Peter did ask (13:36), and Thomas came close to asking (14:5). It is not that they hadn’t asked; it is that they have stopped asking. It is as though the more they have asked, and the clearer Jesus’ meaning has become (He really was leaving them behind, and they could not accompany Him), the more the disciples have become distressed. And so they simply (as we would say) “clammed up.”
This is similar, I think, to the questions which Nicodemus was asking Jesus in John chapter 3. His questions and comments got shorter and shorter, and finally they just ceased. The more Jesus told him, the worse it seemed to get, and so Nicodemus, like the disciples, chose to keep quiet. Jesus seems to be calling their quietness to their attention, perhaps gently rebuking them by doing so. They were so caught up in their own sorrow and their own sense of loss that they did not wish to consider anything else, anything beyond themselves.
D. A. Carson challenges us to consider the lessons we should learn from our Lord’s gentle rebuke of His disciples for their silence:66 they are too preoccupied with themselves, and with their own problems, and not focused upon their Lord. Is this not true of us as well? Are we so absorbed in our own lives, that we not only fail to “fix our eyes on Jesus,” but we also fail to see the needs of those about us?
Things are not nearly as bad as they seem to the disciples. Jesus assures them that what He is telling them is the truth. That is, He is assuring them that they will see His words of comfort come to pass in the future. Our Lord’s “going away” is not only necessary, it is to their advantage. It is not that Jesus is abandoning them when He goes away, and that He is sending the Holy Spirit as a kind of consolation gift. He must go away, or the Holy Spirit cannot come. And when the Spirit does come, the disciples will see that they could never have had it better.
Here, Jesus speaks specifically of the Holy Spirit as their Advocate,67 as they seek to proclaim the gospel to a world that hates them, a world that has crucified Jesus and would also like to kill them. I am reminded of one of my favorite scenes from the movie, “The Bear.” The “bear” is an awesome Grizzly, and he somewhat unwillingly adopts a young cub whose mother has been killed. In one of the final scenes, the baby Grizzly is being pursued by a mountain lion. Finally, the lion has the cub trapped. In desperation, the cub stands erect and sounds the most fierce “roar” he can produce. The mountain lion suddenly cowers and retreats. One wonders how this cub could produce such fear, from such a pathetic “roar.” Then the camera angle widens, so that we are now able to see Pappa Griz, standing some distance behind the cub, towering high above it and the mountain lion. Now we know why the mountain lion decided he had an appointment somewhere else, one which was so pressing he would have to skip lunch. I would contend that when we proclaim the gospel to a hostile world, we are no more awesome than that cub, but we have an Advocate—the Holy Spirit—who seconds what we say, and He is not so easily ignored.
Our Advocate has an agenda. There are certain things to which He will testify as being true, and these are spelled out in verses 8-11. He proves the world wrong with regard to sin, to righteousness, and to judgment. Let us take a closer look at each of these three elements of the Spirit’s convicting68 work.
First, the Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong concerning sin. The most compelling evidence of a person’s sin is their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is the ultimate and final revelation of God to men (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-4). Thus, to reject Jesus as the promised Messiah is the ultimate sin. Those who have heard the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who have witnessed its truth and power, and in spite of this testimony, reject Jesus as God’s only provision for their salvation, have shown themselves to be guilty of sin:
1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).
It is on the basis of this rejection of Jesus that the Spirit proves men guilty of sin.69
This is consistent with the argument of Romans, chapters 1-3. All men have been given a certain knowledge about God and have turned from that knowledge, worshipping something other than the Creator. The Jews have received a higher revelation of God in the Law, and they stand condemned by it. And now that Jesus has come to the earth, fully revealing God, they have rejected Him. This is John’s indictment in the first part of John chapter 1. Jesus is God (1:1, 4), made known (verse 18) to men. Yet in spite of this revelation of God to His own people, they did not receive Him as God (1:5, 10-11). To reject Him who is the ultimate revelation of God is to be guilty of the ultimate sin.
Second, the Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong concerning righteousness, because Jesus is going to the Father and will be seen no longer. The Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong with regard to righteousness. The Jews felt they could justify the crucifixion of Jesus because they had condemned Jesus as a sinner, while at the same time deeming themselves to be righteous. To be convinced that Jesus was, indeed, righteous would be to prove the Jews wrong, and Jesus right. It is only when we see ourselves as sinners, deserving of God’s eternal wrath, and Jesus Christ as the righteous One, that we see our need to trust in Him for salvation.
The final proof of our Lord’s righteousness is His resurrection from the dead:
18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22).
22 “Israelite men, listen to these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man clearly demonstrated to you to be from God by powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed through him among you, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power”(Acts 2:22-24).
13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate when he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be given to you. 15 You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man strong whom you see and know. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. 17 And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too. 18 But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he has fulfilled in this way” (Acts 3:13-18, emphasis mine).
39 We are witnesses of all the things he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:39-43; see also 4:1-2, 33; 13:27-34).
1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 that he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with respect to the flesh, 4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:1-4, emphasis mine).
The point of these texts is that the resurrection of our Lord was witnessed by the apostles, and this was to be proclaimed as proof that Jesus is precisely who He claimed to be—the Son of God. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the Father’s sign of approval. It was the last and final sign, of which Jesus spoke (see Matthew 12:38-40). The enemies of our Lord remembered His prediction of His resurrection after His death, and took measures to insure that no one stole His body to give substance to His claims (see Matthew 27:62-66). The disciples were witnesses of His resurrection.70 They testified to the fact that He was raised from the dead. They saw Jesus no more, because they saw Him after He had risen from the dead, and they watched as He ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit uses the absence of Jesus (at a minimum, the absence of His body in the tomb) to underscore the witness of the apostles, that Jesus is the righteous One, the One who alone can save men from their sins.
Third, the Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong concerning judgment. The “judgment” of which the Holy Spirit will “prove the world to be worthy” is the future judgment of those who have refused to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. It is the judgment of which Jesus has spoken earlier in John:
21 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself; 27 and he granted the Son authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation. 30 I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (John 5:21-30; see also 8:16, 26; 9:39).
It is the judgment of which the apostles spoke:
24 Some days later, when Felix arrived with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 While Paul was discussing righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for now, and when I have an opportunity, I will send for you” (Acts 24:24-25).
The basis on which the Holy Spirit proves the world wrong, and thus worthy of that judgment which is yet to come, is the fact that Satan has already been judged. Jesus spoke of this judgment of Satan and linked it to the judgment of the world: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).
Satan is the source of man’s sin and rebellion against God. He is the driving force behind all sin. When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, He defeated Satan. If Satan has been condemned at the cross, then surely every other sinner’s judgment is certain as well. It is the reality of Satan’s defeat, and its consequences, which the Holy Spirit drives home to the world as proof that all sinners will be judged.
Surely this text informs us that we should not expect the world to embrace Christians with open arms. The cross of Calvary assures us that the world does hate Him. Our Lord’s words should prepare us for opposition from the world as well. If the world hates us, then we surely should not love the world in the sense that we seek its approval, embrace its values, or attempt to find our identity with it:
Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility towards God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy (James 4:4).
15 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; 16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever (1 John 2:15-17).
Therefore do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you (1 John 3:13).
4 You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; the person who knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit (1 John 4:4-6).
The Christian and the world are in an adversarial relationship. How, then, do we explain biblical texts like this one?
When a man's ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:70, NKJV)
I believe we must view such texts in the light of other biblical texts, such as this exhortation from Paul in the Book of Romans:
16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heap burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:16-21).
We are to endeavor to live in peace with others, including unbelievers, even those unbelievers who actively oppose and persecute us (see Acts 7:60). We are to live in peace with all men, as much as possible, to the degree that we are able (Romans 12:18). We have heard it said, “It takes two to tangle.” While this statement may not be totally accurate, it is certainly true that two hot-headed people will have more strife than a hothead who seeks to pick a fight with a Christian, who purposes to live in peace.
I saw this demonstrated this past week as my wife and I were driving on North Central Expressway. There was a fellow trying to merge into traffic from the access ramp. Since there was a lot of traffic, this was not an easy task. The fellow seeking to enter the freeway encountered another fellow who was already on the freeway, and who was not inclined to reduce his speed to let him into “his” lane. The man entering the traffic, turned on his turn signals, and then just started easing over into the lane he desired. The fellow who was already in that lane did not like the way this driver was forcing his way into traffic, and so he refused to slow down. It was apparent that both men were determined not to give in, and the result was a collision, one which could have been much worse. Had one of these drivers been a Christian, who purposed to live peaceably, there would have been no accident. And so it is true that Christians who live according to God’s Word may have less conflict than others. Having said this, those who abide in Christ, and who manifest Christ in their lives, should expect to be treated as Christ was by the world.
It is sad to say that all too often there is more animosity and hostility among Christians than there is between Christians and the unbelieving world. We should recall that Jesus commanded Christians to “love one another,” while He told us to expect the world to hate and to oppose us.
It seems as though Christians in America fail to grasp the fact that opposition and hostility from the world is the norm. We seem to have a sense of entitlement, a misguided expectation that our lives should be filled with blessings, yet be free from trials and tribulations. Listen to these words from the pen of D. A. Carson:
But are there no painful aspects to being a Christian? Is all happiness and light, though Christ himself was a man of sorrows who walked through the valley of the shadow of death? Do we participate only in his joy, but not in his tears? Does he alone bear the cross? Even to ask such questions is to show that much modern evangelicalism borders on the frivolous. We are so often taught to think that the Christian way brings blessings without buffetings, triumphs without trials, witness without weariness. We are encouraged to believe that Christians exude overcoming joy, and rarely face discouraging defeat; that they live in a realm of constant excitement, and never wrestle with boredom; that they love and are loved, and need not confront persecution, ostracism, hate, rejection; that they are self-confident and ebullient, and never taste terror, loneliness, doubt; that they are fulfilled and satisfied, but not as a result of self-denial and daily death. It is not so much that the promises are false, that they have no substance, as that they distort truth by promising a crown without a cross. We too easily want the fruitfulness of a well-kept vine-branch, but think little about the disciplined pruning performed by the divine ‘gardener.’71
From what our Lord has told us, we should recognize that evangelism is not just a difficult obligation; it is an impossible one! We have been commissioned to take the gospel to a world that is opposed to Jesus Christ, to His gospel, and to His disciples. How, then, can we ever expect to see anyone come to faith in Jesus Christ? We can expect them to come to faith in the same way we did—through the faithful proclamation of God’s Word, and through the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the Word of God, and who effectually calls men to faith in Jesus Christ. Specifically, from our text, the Holy Spirit is the One who convinces men of their sin, of Christ’s righteousness, and of the judgment which is coming upon all who do not receive the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
This text has much to say to each of us who believes in Jesus Christ, and who are commanded to proclaim the gospel to an unbelieving and hostile world. First, we are assured that God is working in and through us to win lost sinners to Himself. While we are to proclaim the gospel, it is the Holy Spirit who works from the inside out, to convince sinners of the truth of the gospel. Surely, since the Holy Spirit’s ministry pertains to the issues of sin, righteousness, and judgment, we know what our subject matter should be—these same topics. This certainly is the case with the apostles. Notice how Peter includes all three elements in his epistle:
4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world, 6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:4-10).
Our text in John’s Gospel, which speaks both of the world’s hostility and the Spirit’s help, reminds me of the story of Elijah, when he confronted the false prophets of Israel. He alone withstood the 850 prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). After these prophets failed to call fire down from heaven, Elijah instructed that barrels of water be poured out on his altar, wood, and sacrifice. That way, if Elijah could call down fire to consume the offering, there would be no doubt that it was God who had done this great miracle. The hatred and opposition of the unbelieving world is like those barrels of water, which Elijah had poured on the altar. It only serves to show the power of God, manifested through the gospel, and empowered by His Spirit. If the world truly hates us because of Christ, then if men get saved, it will be apparent that this was God’s doing, and not the work of men.
This certainly means that we do not need to compromise or “water down” the gospel, thinking this will make it easier for unbelievers to embrace the gospel:
14 But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing— 16 to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit; but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, 4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).
I find it most interesting that the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as described in our text, deals with those things which cannot be seen. We cannot really see sin, righteousness, or judgment, but the Spirit of God proves the world wrong in these matters. It should not surprise us that these crucial things are “unseen” because faith deals with unseen things:
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:1-3).
Let me close by speaking a word to those who do not yet believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. If you do not believe that you are a sinner, that Jesus Christ and His righteousness are your only hope for eternal life, and that as a sinner you are under divine condemnation and will stand in judgment before God in the future, then I simply encourage you to try to forget everything you have read in this message. Try to forget what the Bible teaches you about your sin, about the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and about the coming judgment of God on all sinners. But if what our Lord has said in John chapter 16 is true, then the Holy Spirit will bear witness to these truths from within your heart. Don’t try to debate these things with me; try to ignore the inner testimony of God’s Spirit. And if you cannot, then confess your sin, and turn in faith to Jesus Christ for the righteousness which He alone can give. The truths of our text are a great source of comfort to the Christian, and the cause for much consternation and conviction for the unbeliever.
58 Scholars have difficulty deciding whether verse 17 goes with the verses before it, or those which follow it—our text. I am inclined to conclude that it is a transition verse, linking what has gone before with what follows, and thus I will include it in this lesson, even though we are technically starting at verse 18.
59 It certainly seems apparent that these words must be taken into account in relation to John 15:15. In 15:20, the disciples are still viewed as slaves, at least in some sense, while in verse 15, they are not slaves.
61 Morris writes, “The word kosmoV [world] has an especially Johannine ring about it in the New Testament. Altogether it occurs 185 times, of which 78 occurrences are in John, 24 in the Johannine Epistles, and 3 in Revelation. Its occurrence in the Synoptic Gospels is not frequent (Matthew 8 times, Mark and Luke 3 times each). It occurs in the Pauline Epistles a total of 47 times. It is thus a word of some importance for John and to a lesser extent for Paul, but it is not much used by other New Testament writers.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p.126.
Carson adds, “Although some have argued that for John the word kosmoV (‘world’) sometimes has positive overtones (‘God so loved the world,’ 3:16), sometimes neutral overtones (as here; cf. also 21:24-25, where the ‘world’ is simply a big place that can hold a lot of books), and frequently negative overtones (‘the world did not recognise him,’ 1:10), closer inspection shows that although a handful of passages preserve a neutral emphasis the vast majority are decidedly negative. There are no unambiguously positive occurrences. The ‘world,’ or frequently ‘this world’ (e.g. 8:23; 9:39; 11:9; 18:36), is not the universe, but the created order (especially of human beings and human affairs) in rebellion against its Maker (e.g. 1:10; 7:7; 14:17, 22, 27, 30; 15:18-19; 16:8, 20, 33; 17:6, 9, 14). Therefore when John tells us that God loves the world (3:16), far from being an endorsement of the world, it is a testimony to the character of God. God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big but because the world is so bad. … In fact, the ‘world’ in John’s usage comprises no believers at all. Those who come to faith are no longer of this world; they have been chosen out of this world (15:19).” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 122-123.
62 “There should be little doubt that the first virulent opposition Christians faced came from the Jews, precisely because the church sprang out of Judaism and all of its earliest members were Jews. It is not surprising that Paul five times received the thirty-nine lashes (2 Cor. 11:24)—a distinctive punishment meted out by synagogue authorities—or that Acts reports many forms of opposition stimulated by the opposition of Jewish authorities (e.g. ch. 7).” Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 531.
“There is certainly evidence that some rabbinic authorities held that slaying heretics could be an act of divine worship (e.g. Numbers Rabbah 21:3 (191a) [with reference to Nu. 25:13]; Mishnah Sanhedrin 9:6).” Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 531.
63 It should be pointed out here that it was a difference over the words of John 15:26 that split the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox church off from the Western church, the church of Rome. The Eastern church adhered to the Nicene Creed, which affirmed belief in the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father.” The Western church sought to place emphasis on the Son, as well as the Father, and thus modified the wording of the Nicene Creed, to read, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Eastern church insisted that the Western church correct its creed to conform to the exact words of the Nicene Creed, and if not, they threatened that they would not remain in communion with the Western church. And so it was that after a bitter strife, they separated. This text in John, which has so much to say about loving one another, and about hatred from the world, is not one that you would think of as divisive among the saints. But indeed, that is precisely what happened in the history of the church. Morris has commented, “We cannot but feel that it is a pity that theologians have been so bitter about a passage that is really not dealing with their subject.” Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 3, p. 534.
64 “Whether in the first century or in the twentieth, Christians have often discovered that the most dangerous oppression comes not from careless pagans but from zealous adherents to religious faith, and from other ideologues. A sermon was preached when Cranmer was burned at the stake. Christians have faced severe persecution performed in the name of Yahweh, in the name of Allah, in the name of Marx—and in the name of Jesus.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p. 531.
65 Notice that Jesus does not merely say, “I am going away,” but rather, “I am going to the one who sent me. …” Once again, our Lord emphasizes that He was sent to earth by the Father, and that having completed His mission, He is returning to heaven, to be with His Father. How easy it would have been to dwell on His betrayal, cruel treatment by men, and the agony of His suffering on the cross of Calvary. Instead, He focuses on the “joy set before Him” (see Hebrews 12:2). All of this emphasizes the fact that He has accomplished the task which He was given.
66 “Christians today need to meditate long on this rebuke. Some branches of Christendom stress the believer’s experience, the believer’s privilege, the believer’s blessings, the believer’s faith, the believer’s love, the believer’s conduct. … Of course true Christianity transforms the personality and can be richly described in the categories of personal experience: but who is more concerned to please Jesus and fulfill Jesus’ desires than to please himself and fulfill his own desires?
“Other branches of Christendom underline the importance of sacrifice and the need for service. … Of course it is true that biblical Christianity demands self-denial and thrusts believers out in sacrificial service and profound sympathy for the outcast; but is it not possible to become so enamored with the trappings of self-discipline and so occupied with the urgencies of injustice that activity displaces adoration and personal sacrifice dethrones a personal Savior?
“Still others tremble at the doctrinal declension which threatens to ravage Christianity from the inside. They see defection from a high view of Scripture as an evil of mind-numbing proportions, and warn against the syncretism which is surreptitiously intruding itself into the flaccid flanks of evangelicalism. Defenders of the truth, they scent heresy in the earliest stages and are quick to pounce on it and expose it. Of course, true Christianity is indeed a religion of the Book, and it boasts certain non-negotiable doctrines and exclusive claims—the denial of which places one outside the camp; but is it not possible to be orthodox and much concerned about correct formulations of the truth while all the time only minimally concerned to follow Jesus himself in a full-orbed and adoring manner?
“The disciples in John 16 do not fall into precisely these errors of imbalance. Nevertheless their conduct has one thing in common with such deficient representations of Christianity; something other than Jesus himself and all that he is and says receives primary attention. The other things in question may be worthy, good, and even necessary: who, after all, would demean personal experience, sacrificial service, or firm commitment to truth? Yet if these good and essential things displace the centrality of Jesus Christ in our worship, empathy, and commitment, we come close to prostituting the good news of Jesus and following the disciples’ sorry example.” D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 136-137.
67 “In John’s usage, the legal overtones are sharpest in 16:7-11, but there the Paraclete serves rather more as a prosecuting attorney than as counsel for the defence. NIV’s ‘Counsellor’ is not wrong, so long as ‘legal counsellor’ is understood, not ‘camp counsellor’ or ‘marriage counsellor’—and even so, the Paraclete’s ministry extends beyond the legal sphere. The same limitation afflicts ‘Advocate.’ AV’s ‘Comforter’ was not bad in Elizabethan English, when the verb ‘to comfort’ meant ‘to strengthen, give succour to, to encourage, to aid’ (from Latin confortare, ‘to strengthen’). In today’s ears, ‘Comforter’ sounds either like a quilt or like a do-gooder at a wake, and for most speakers of English should be abandoned.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p. 499.
68 “The verb occurs eighteen times in the New Testament (cf. Mt. 18:15; Lk. 3:19; Jn. 3:20; 8:46; 1 Cor. 14:24; Eph. 5:11, 13; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:9, 13; 2:15; Heb. 12:5; Jas. 2:9; Jude 15, 22; Rev. 3:19). Arguably, in every instance the verb has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance … The ‘exposure,’ then, is the exposure of one who does evil and who hates the light; it brings the shame that makes the evil person shrink from the light.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 534-535. [I would only add to this the fact that when the Holy Spirit convicts so as to effectively call the lost to faith in Christ, the exposure turns the convicted sinner to the light.]
69 Though it is not in view here, I would understand that those who have never heard the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ would continue to be judged and condemned on the basis of their rejection of the knowledge of God in nature (see Romans 1:18ff.). Jesus is talking to His disciples, who will proclaim the gospel, and who will suffer persecution from the world for doing so. Thus, those who oppose them will be those who have heard the truth and have rejected it.
70 See Acts 1:22.
71 D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14-17 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 114.