The Persecution to Come
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (vv. 1–2).- John 16:1–4a
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He made several predictions of what lay ahead for Himself and for His disciples. For example, He revealed to the disciples that one of them would hand Him over to the religious authorities. He made this prediction in order to bolster the disciples’ faith and to reassure them that He remained in control of events even when it looked like things were out of His hands. When Judas betrayed Him, they would remember what He had foreseen and they would believe that He was the Messiah and sovereign over all (John 13:18–19).Later on that same evening, Jesus predicted that the world would hate His followers even to the point of persecuting them (15:18–25). He reassured them that the Holy Spirit would be with them in that hour (vv. 26–27), but today’s passage indicates that He warned them of what was coming in order to preserve their faith. As John 16:1 tells us, Jesus informed the disciples of the persecution to come in order to keep them “from falling away.” Moreover, while Jesus’ warning can apply to persecution in general, He also mentioned that much of the persecution the disciples would face would come from Jewish religious authorities who would put them out of the synagogues (v. 2).Early church history shows that Jesus’ predictions came true. For example, the entire purpose of the epistle to the Hebrews is to warn Christians from a Jewish background not to deny Christ under pressure from the Jews to do so. Prior to his conversion, Paul—then known as Saul the Pharisee—was looking to stamp out the early Christian movement (Acts 9:1–2). After Paul came to Christ and began preaching the gospel, Jews incited opposition to his ministry (13:50–51). To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and Jesus, as our wise Shepherd, told His disciples the hard truth that such persecution was coming in order to keep them from committing apostasy—falling away fully and finally from a profession of faith in Christ. None of the original disciples—and none of His later followers, by extension—would be able to say that they had no idea what they were getting into when they resolved to follow Christ.Jesus also indicated that many of the persecutors of the church will think they are serving God (John 16:2), and history has shown that many of the most zealous enemies of the gospel have been religiously motivated. Ironically, while thinking they are serving God, such persecutors are actually committing a great sacrilege.
The world will hate the followers of Jesus, and sometimes this hatred will show itself in vicious persecution. Let us be conscious of this possibility and do what we can to order our lives so that we will be less tempted to recant our profession if persecution comes. Let us do what we can not to love the world so that we will stand firm when the world turns on us.
Passages for Further Study