The Lord follows up his declaration that his followers will be subjected to persecution by revealing the root cause of this hostility: “Because they know not him that sent me” (John15:21). We also note the antagonism is due to the fact his followers are acting in Christ’s name.
Hostility to the Father and the Son
The two concepts cannot be divorced from each other, because it is God who has sent the Lord. Everything in Christ’s life is the Father’s doing. As we have noted, Jesus never claims any originality: “I can of myself do nothing…because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me:” (John 5:30). Here is the root cause of human failing and sins: the failure to know the God who has revealed Himself, first in nature, then in His word, and supremely in His Son. This is not the place to examine in detail the concept of knowing God for the subject is too great, but we will at least recall the words of Hosea: “Let us follow on to know the LORD” (Hos. 6-3). This is an on-going process which is only initiated in this life and is to be continued in the kingdom.
It is precisely because the Father is, as it were, so clearly articulate in the Son, that the sin of those who reject him is so grave: “They have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). There can be no question about the hatred aroused by the Lord, especially in the case of the Jewish leaders who felt so threatened by the Lord’s teaching, and his denunciations (see especially Matt. 23). Jesus aroused in them implacable hatred, a hatred which contrived his arrest and brought about his death. But because the Lord could claim, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), the hatred directed against the Son was tantamount to hatred of his Father. This is what the Lord affirms in John 15:23.
The teaching confirmed by the signs
The teaching and claims of our Lord, great and fundamental as they were, did not stand alone for they were of such a nature that they required endorsement. So it is that the Lord appeals to the witness of his works (John 15:24). He emphasizes the character of the miracles he performed: “The works which none other did.” Earlier, the Lord had made a similar claim (John10:37-38).
Many miracles are recorded in the four gospels; and John, with his selection of signs, makes his own contribution to the record. Among these was the raising of Lazarus, dead already for four days (John11:17), a sign so significant that the Jewish leaders were embarrassed by it, and sought even to bring about the death of Lazarus (see12:10). Thus the Lord’s claim that his miracles testified to his authority rested upon a solid foundation.
Signs did not stop the hatred
But all was in vain: because of the threat to themselves, and their place in society, the Jewish leaders were resolved at all costs to get rid of the Lord. As we have already noted, he became the subject of their implacable hatred. So completely was the Father revealed in the Son, and so authentic an expression of divine power were the Lord’s miracles, that having seen him, they had at the same time seen the Father. In hating the one they were hating the other. Thus John15:24 picks up and elaborates the thought from verse 23.
In this tragic situation, nothing but judgement could ensue. As for the situation in which he finds himself, the Lord sees a fulfillment of passages from the Psalms: “They hated me without a cause” (John15:25). The mind of our Lord goes back to the words of David (in Ps. 35:19 and 69:4), for the latter’s experiences were so often a foreshadowing of his own. Relentlessly pursued by Saul, and those who supported him, although the king owed his life and his realm to him, David’s courage and faith were an anticipation of the Lord’s experiences and the way he faced them.
Failed support from family
In common with Psalm 22, Psalm 69 prophesies in so many ways our Lord’s sufferings. We note especially Psalm 69:8: “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.” The members of David’s family were doubtless embarrassed when Saul turned against David and he was hounded from society like a common criminal. Our Lord’s own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). It requires great humility and patience in such circumstances when the hatred and animosity are totally unjustified.
Promise of the comforter
What was to befall the Lord on the occasion of his arrest provided a challenge to which the apostles were not equal, as we well know. Perhaps this is what the Lord is conscious of, as he renews his promise to send to his apostles, the comforter, the holy spirit (John 15:26). As ever, the Lord is careful to indicate the source of the spirit, “The spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.” When, on the day of Pentecost, the waiting apostles did receive the holy spirit, Peter’s comment was in keeping with the Lord’s own words: “Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the holy spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear” (Acts 2:33).
John 15 closes with a promise, which, when it is linked with verse 26 (with its promise of the spirit) is highly significant for our understanding of the spread of the gospel. Here the Lord declares that the gift of the spirit will enable witness to be borne to himself. Then he adds, the apostles themselves will also bear witness.
When we turn to the book of Acts, we can see in what an impressive way this promise was fulfilled. On the day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the spirit upon the apostles provided Peter with his first audience. Their attention having been arrested by the phenomenon they had witnessed, the large company listened intently to Peter. In the course of his discourse, the apostle, flanked by the other eleven, was able to declare, “This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts2:32). It was thus that the Lord’s words in John 15: 26-27 found an initial fulfillment.
Fulfillment in Acts
A further dramatic illustration of their truth was to follow. In Acts 3, we have the record of the healing of the man lame from birth, at the Beautiful gate of the temple. This causes something of a sensation, for over the years he had become a familiar figure. None knew him better than the Jewish leaders who constantly frequented the temple. As Peter and John drew near to this man, and he expected some form of charity from them, Peter thus spoke to him: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The cripple responded, not merely by standing, but also by leaping (3:8). The healing of this man, so obviously the work of the holy spirit, was a truly dramatic event, for the man was more than forty years of age (Acts 4:22).
This provided Peter with a further audience for the preaching of the gospel, and once more the apostle was able to invoke both his personal witness and that of John to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 3:15). Thus, again, we can see a fulfillment of the Lord’s words.
We cannot now follow in detail the consequences of this particular act of healing. It must suffice to say that the Jewish leadership, increasingly embarrassed by the progress of the gospel and Peter’s insistence on their guilt in bringing about the death of the Lord, finally caused all the apostles to be arraigned before them. Peter was not in any way abashed when he and the others were reminded they had been strictly forbidden to preach in the name of Jesus. Unhesitatingly he responded: God was to be obeyed rather than men. Then the apostle added words which are of special interest to us, for they echoed what the Lord had said (in John 15:27); he declared boldly that he and the others were witnesses of what had happened, as was the holy spirit given by God to all who obeyed Him (Acts 5:32). It is when we bring together the words of Peter and of his Lord that we are enabled to appreciate how completely the Lord Jesus could foresee and, in his exalted state, determine the course of events.
These reflections can strengthen our faith, and still further increase our trust in the apostles’ witness as it is preserved in Acts and in the epistles. But we must not forget that the primary purpose of what the Lord said to his apostles was to prepare them for the opposition and, occasionally, the persecution which would be their lot after his ascension to heaven. Indeed, as we turn to John 16, we find the Lord is further preparing them for what was to happen.
Tom Barling, Teignmouth, England