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Jesus relates what he has experienced to what the disciples will now experience (vv. 18-20). The rejection of Jesus by his opponents has been based in their alienation from God. Jesus now refers to them as the world, since the world is that which is in rebellion against God. The disciples would face rejection by Gentiles as well (cf. Tacitus Annals 15.44; Suetonius Nero 16), but at the moment Jesus has Jewish opposition in mind (16:2). Since the disciples are members of Christ like branches are members of a vine, they receive what he receives—both the sunshine and rain of the love of the Father and the storms of the hatred of those who are in rebellion against the Father.
The disciples are included in the world's hatred of Jesus because, like him, they are not of this world (v. 19; cf. 8:23; Neyrey 1988). They are Jesus' friends (philoi, 15:14-15), and thus they are not loved (ephilei) by the world. Jesus has chosen them (exelexamen) and appointed that they to go bear fruit (15:16), and this commission was based on a more fundamental act that he now refers to as choosing them (exelexamen) out of the world. They have been transferred to Jesus' kingdom, which is not of this world (18:36). The world's hatred of them, therefore, is an encouragement to the disciples since it is due to the difference Jesus has made within them. This does not mean the world has no hatred for others besides Christians. Nor does it mean that someone who is hated by the world is necessarily being true to God. But Jesus does say that those who are his disciples are quite distinct from all that is in rebellion against God and should not be surprised when opposition arises.Jesus refers his disciples back to his saying, "No servant is greater than his master" (v. 20; cf. 13:16). Earlier Jesus was referring to his example of humility in washing their feet. Now this saying applies to his humility in undergoing persecution by the world, even to the point of death. Here we see the incredible humility of the master, who is Lord of all. If humility is appropriate for a slave, how much more for a slave of such a master. Jesus concentrates on two items of comparison in particular—persecution and obedience to his teaching. While Jesus' statement if they obeyed my teaching could refer to those who did in fact do so, the present context is focused on rejection (vv. 20, 21), so the idea is probably more like "they will follow your teaching as little as they have followed mine" (NEB). Thus, the disciples are rejected not only because they are not of this world, but also because they are proclaiming a message (cf. v. 27). The present text shows the disciples in the role of prophets, meeting the prophets' fate. As the Lord told Ezekiel, "The house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate" (Ezek 3:7). There has been plenty of such hardness within the church as well.
Jesus summarizes his point thus far by saying, They will treat you this way because of my name (v. 21). His name refers to his identity and his character as it is made manifest (see comment on 1:12). But Jesus cannot be understood apart from the Father, so he concludes that the reason they reject him is their ignorance of the One who sent me. Here is the core problem (cf. 5:37-38; 7:28; 8:19, 47, 55), which introduces the main point of the rest of this section (vv. 22-25). Jesus has been speaking of the connection between the treatment he has experienced and that of his disciples. Now he focuses on his own ministry and its relation to the Father.
His central assertion is that this ignorance of the Father is culpable because of the witness he has borne in word and deed. He has spoken to them the words of the Father himself (14:10-11) and shown them the deeds of the Father (5:19, 30), deeds unlike anyone else's (v. 24). If he had not spoken and acted thus they would not be guilty of sin (vv. 22, 24). The text says literally, "they would not have sin" (hamartia). Hamartia can refer to guilt, but here the reference is more likely to sin itself. For in John's Gospel sin is understood as lack of faith in Jesus, that is, hatred of him and his Father (Michaels 1989:276). The opponents do not think they hate God, but such is the case given their hatred of Jesus (vv. 23-24). "This hatred is the human `no' to the divine `yes' expressed in the mission of his Son" (Ridderbos 1997:525).
The disciples are actually experiencing the deep-seated rebellion of sinful humanity against the Father himself. The conflict they experience is a part of something much bigger than themselves. Sometimes Christians today say they are being persecuted for the sake of God, when in fact they are being rejected merely because they are obnoxious. But many Christians are indeed undergoing the most horrid persecution and suffering for the Name. Jesus' words of encouragement here speak directly to his disciples in such situations. He gives them the larger perspective, helping them understand that what they are going through is part of the world's rejection of the Father and the Son.
Such suffering is not outside God's providential care. It corresponds to a pattern found in Scripture, which is what fulfill means here (v. 25). The rejection of Jesus and his disciples is found in the very law to which those rejecting them claim to be loyal, thus further demonstrating their culpability. The passage cited, They hated me without reason, is probably either Psalm 35:19 or 69:4. The latter may be more likely because it is referred to so often in the New Testament, being quoted or directly alluded to seventeen times in all. In either case the innocent psalmist is complaining to God about his persecutors. So Jesus is not just using a convenient proof text but making connection with an important type. He is using Scripture to assure his disciples that they should not be surprised by what he is experiencing nor by what they themselves will experience. God is in control.
Thus Jesus is giving the disciples two grounds for assurance, himself and the Scriptures. They should look to him for his example and for what he has said to them. They also gain confidence through what they find in the Old Testament, understood in relation to Jesus (v. 25). The Scriptures in general, and the Gospels in particular, continue to play such a role in the lives of faithful disciples today.