Jesus Refers Directly to the Jewish Persecution of His Disciples (16:1-4)

The general description of conflict (15:18-27) is now spelled out more specifically, beginning with the topic of persecution. Jesus warns that expulsion from the synagogue and even death awaits the disciples (16:2; cf. Mt 10:17, 21 par. Mk 13:9, 12 par. Lk 21:12, 16). Such martyrdom began with Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and continued on a local basis (Acts 12:1-2; 14:5, 19; 18:12; 22:4; 26:10; 2 Cor 11:23-25; Rev 2:13; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 20.200; Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 95.4, 133.6; Martyrdom of Polycarp 13.1). The expulsion from the synagogue also occurred on a local basis and then more widely late in the first century (see comment on 9:22).

Jesus' opponents are about to put him to death for the sake of what they believe to be God's truth and honor. The same fate awaits his followers, since the one who kills his disciples will think he is offering a service to God (v. 2). The word service (latreia) refers to religious service. A later Jewish text says, "if a man sheds the blood of the wicked it is as though he had offered a sacrifice" (Midrash Rabbah on Num 21:3; cf. b. Sanhedrin 9:6). Such a view is quite understandable among those who believe they have received the revelation of the truth, which includes most, if not all, the major religions. Such killing is against the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament, but this has not stopped such activity in the name of Christ.

The opponents' zeal is itself commendable (cf. Rom 10:2), but because it is directed against Jesus and his followers, it simply bears further witness to their alienation from God. That is, Jesus and John agree with their Jewish opponents that God has revealed himself—there is revealed truth to live and die for, truth that distinguishes those who are of God and those who are against him. But they disagree about the locus of this truth. Jesus says they are doing these things because they have not known the Father or me (v. 3; cf. 15:21, 23). So the knowledge of the Father and the Son, which is the very source of the disciples' joy and peace, is also the cause of their troubles in the world.

Jesus tells them about these troubles ahead of time so they will not go astray (v. 1; cf. 13:19). This verb (skandalizo) does not refer to making a mistake but to something preventing one's progress, in this case a falling away (Stahlin 1971:345). Earlier, when the disciples had grumbled over a hard saying, Jesus used this same word when he said, "Does this offend you?" (6:61). The teaching did offend them, and "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (6:66). Such a falling away is what Jesus wants to prevent by warning them of persecution. When the hard times come they should stick with him, just as these eleven did when the hard sayings hit them (6:67-68). These are the ones who have received Jesus' words, and they are to remember these words (16:4) so they do not fall away.

Disciples today also need to receive deeply the teachings of Christ and his apostles in order to be ready for times of persecution or temptation. Jesus here provides an example of pastoral care. It is part of the pastor's duty to ensure that God's people receive such preparation so they will continue on the pilgrim way and not fall away or otherwise get blocked along the way.

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