We are continuing our study of the Upper Room discourse, which runs from chapter 13 thru chapter 16 and gives us the teaching that Yeshua gave to His disciples on His last night before His arrest and crucifixion. Once the Lord finishes His teaching to the disciples he prays for them in chapter 17. This is the Lord's Prayer. In this prayer He asks the Father to fulfill all that He has promised, not only for his disciples, but for all who will believe in the future:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, John 17:20 ESV
Who is Yeshua praying for here? For his disciples and "for those who will believe in me through their word." Who is that? It's us! So the Lord's teaching in the Upper Room Discourse has much application to us.
We are finishing up chapter 15 which can be divided this way: John 15:1-17 dealing with the Vine and the Branches, John 15:18-16:4a describing the world's hatred for Yeshua and the disciples.
So far in this chapter we have seen that Yeshua tells those who are clean, those who have believed in Him, those who have eternal life, those we are his children to:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 ESV
"Abide in me"—is a strong word in the original text. It's in a tense that expresses a decisive command. It is the active voice, that is something we are expected to do. So believers are commanded to abide in Christ.
Some see no difference between a Christian and a disciple but to me this text shows us the difference. In this text Christians are told to abide, and to abide is to be a disciple:
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8 ESV
To abide is to bear fruit and to bear fruit is to prove discipleship. Fruit bearing is so bound up with discipleship that the one stands by metonymy for the other. To be a disciple is to bear fruit. To bear fruit is to be a disciple. So there is a difference between believing and abiding. Yeshua commands believers to abide.
Verse 4 says, "unless it abides…unless you abide"—these are both third class conditional sentences, which means potential action, maybe you will, maybe you won't. Believers are commanded to abide, but they might not.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7 ESV
This is a third class conditional sentence, which means: "potential action, maybe you will and maybe you won't. So those who are clean may abide, but they may not. It is not assumed that all believers will abide. So there must be some distinction between believing and abiding.
In verse 9 Yeshua tells believers to "Abide in my love"—this is an aorist active imperative. Believers are commanded to abide in Christ's love. Abiding in His love is not automatic; it is something which we are commanded to do, and which takes effort and action on our part. So how do we abide in His love? Yeshua is very clear on this matter. We abide in His love when we keep His commandments:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
"If you keep my commandments"—this again is a third class conditional sentence, which means: "potential action. Maybe you will, and maybe you won't." So those who are clean, believers, may or may not "keep his commandments." And if they don't keep his commandments they will not abide in Him or in His love. It is not assumed that all believers will abide. So there must be some distinction between believing and abiding.
Some teach that if you are a believer you will keep his commandments, but that is not what Yeshua teaches. He says believers may or may not keep his commandments. Abiding or obedience is not automatic for believers.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:14 ESV
"If you do what I command you"-this is also a third class conditional sentence which means potential action. It gives the condition for friendship, which is obedience. So again these believers may or may not keep Yeshua's commandments and be His friends. Okay hopefully you get my point; there is a difference between being a believer and abiding in Christ.
Believers we are commanded to abide in Christ. This can only happen if the Word of Christ dwells in us and we keep His commandments. As we know the Word and obey the Word we will abide in Christ and bear much fruit, and we will also experience His joy.
To abide is to walk in intimate fellowship with our Lord and to experience his joy but joy is not the only thing we will experience, we will also experience the world's hatred and persecution. In verse 18, our Lord moves from talking about the blessings of heavenly love to the realities of earthly hatred:
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. John 15:18 ESV
The world hates believers because it hates Christ and we are his representatives, his image bearers. Paul teaches this truth in:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Yeshua will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12 ESV
That's clear enough isn't it? If you live a godly life, if you abide in him the world will persecute you. The world hates Christ and they hate those who are like him. If you fit in with the world you are not abiding in Christ. Think about that.
We saw in our last study (15:18-25) that our Lord warned His followers that persecution is a given for Christ's disciples. The very ones who wanted Yeshua killed would now want his disciples killed also. But it was the mission of the disciples to take the Gospel to the world. How can Yeshua expect His disciples to witness to the world with all this hostility and persecution? Those of the world are dead, they don't seek after God; they can't understand the truth; their minds are blinded; and on top of that, they hate Christ and believers. So how can they or we have any success? The only answer is by the power of the Spirit. Yeshua promises them the Spirit who alone brings life:
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:63 ESV
The Spirit gives life to the dead sinner. We couldn't do this on our own. This, again, is the ministry of the Holy Spirit which he tells them about in the next verses:
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. John 15:26 ESV
Some teach that this teaching about the Spirit breaks up the flow of the context and suggest that these two verses were added from some other source. They say this because verse 18-25 deal with persecution and then 16:1-3 also deals with persecution so these two verse about the Spirit are out of place. But these two verses fit well here they explain how the conflict between Yeshua and the world would continue after He departed to heaven and they give comfort and strength in the persecution that the disciples will face.
Yeshua identifies the Spirit here in the same way He did in John 14:16-17. He is called "the Helper" and "the Spirit of truth." "Helper"—is from the Greek word parakletos. This word is only found five times in Scripture and only in the Fourth Gospel and in First John (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; and 1John 2:1). The word parakletos can have various meanings. It can mean advocate, intercessor, counselor, protector or supporter. The literal Greek entomology is from para, which means: "to the side of" and kaleo, which means, "to summon." Therefore, the word can be interpreted to mean to be called to someone's side in order to accompany, console, protect , or defend that person. There is really no one word equivalent in English for the Greek word parakletos.
The Spirit is also called, "The Spirit of truth"—He is the Spirit of truth primarily because He communicates the truth. In 14:6, Yeshua claims to be "the truth", so "the Spirit of truth" may in part define the Helper as the Spirit who bears witness to the truth, i.e. to the truth that Yeshua is Yahweh.
The Paraclete represents Yeshua's presence in the believer, and when the world strikes out against a believer it is striking out against Christ. This is why the world will treat Yeshua's disciples the same way it treated Him. Through the Paraclete's indwelling presence, Christ lives in believers and therefore the world will hate the disciples who are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
Yeshua told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with the Spirit's power before bearing witness of Him. They could never have been witnesses on their own, we see this in their constant failures before Pentecost. But after Pentecost we see once fearful disciples boldly proclaiming the good news of Yeshua the Christ. The whole book of Acts gives us an amazing record of the Holy Spirit's power at work in believers to stand boldly before a hating world and proclaim the gospel of Christ!
"He will bear witness about me"-when Yeshua departs from the world, he will not leave it without a continuing witness. How does He do that? He does it through the Word of God, which He inspired, but also through believers. As Peter testified (Acts 5:32), "And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit."
The Spirit will continue the witness to Christ after He returned to heaven.
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father"-in 14:16 Yeshua said that "the Father" would send the Paraclete in answer to Yeshua's prayer, and in 14:26 Yeshua said that "the Father" would send the Paraclete in Yeshua's name. But here Yeshua says that he himself will send the Paraclete from the Father. Is this a discrepance as some claim? No, Yeshua continually claims to be acting on behalf of the Father. The two are so closely identified in their activities in sending the Paraclete that this degree of interchange is possible.
"Whom I will send to you from the Father"-some believe the work of the Holy Spirit is to testify about Yeshua to unbelievers. But that's not what Yeshua said here. He said that he would send the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and that the Holy Spirit would then make Yeshua real and precious to Christians who would them testify to the world about Christ.
"Whom I will send to you from the Father"-does anybody know the significance of these words in church history? It was a difference over these words 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."
As a consequence of this addition, the Orthodox churches rejected what has become known as the "filioque clause" which affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and not simply from the Father. The "filioque clause" was probably added to the Creed in the last decade of the 6th century in the Third Council of Toledo in 589AD, which was a council that did not include Eastern Church.
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 15 that has so much to say about believers loving one another, and about hatred that they would experience from the world, is the very text that brought division among the saints. How sad is that.
The reason the wording here became an issue was because of the old Arian heresy which denied the eternal coexistence of God the Father and the Son. In the first decade of the third century, the Alexandrian priest Arius began teaching the heresy that if the Son was a real Son then his Father must have existed before Him; therefore, the Divine Father must have existed before the Divine Son and the Son is a creature created by God. He declared that the Son was the greatest and eldest of all God's creatures and was Himself a God but still created and therefore like all creatures of an essence or substance which previously had not existed. It was the Arian heresy that forced theologians to take a new approach to the discussion of the nature of the Trinity. Earlier Christian theologians reflected almost exclusively on the Triune nature of God in the context of the economy of salvation and the aspect of revelation and redemption. After Arius introduced his heresy, it was necessary to focus on the identity of God the Son with the Father and later on the Holy Spirit's relationship with both the Father and the Son. The addition of the "filioque clause" in 589 AD was made with the intention of repudiating the Arian heresy.
To me the important issue here is that Yeshua is speaking of the Holy Spirit as a living Person who is part of the Godhead and fully God Himself. The Athanasian Creed states it this way:
The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created: but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten: but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, nor less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.
And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:27 ESV
What unique position as witnesses do the disciples that Yeshua is talking to fill?
They will provide the eyewitness accounts of Yeshua's ministry: His words and His works, to the New Covenant people and to their successors.
So verses 25 and 26 tell us that when Yeshua departs from the world, he will not leave it without a continuing witness. In fact, there will be two: the Paraclete whom Yeshua will send will continue to testify concerning him (verse 26), and the disciples will also continue to testify to the world (verse 27). These two witnesses in combination will produce even further hatred and hostility by the world (16:1-4a).
"I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. John 16:1 ESV
Chapter 16 does not begin with a clear break in thought from the preceding chapter. Let's remember that chapter divisions are not inspired and are much later additions, like paragraphing, capitalization, punctuation, and verses. The section which began in 15:18 continues through 16:4a. The theme of the world's hatred for the disciples and its persecution of them which Yeshua discussed in 15:18-25 reappears here, after the interlude in 15:26-27 which introduced the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
"I have said these things to you" brackets this subsection of the discourse. This phrase occurs seven times in the Last Discourse. Here and in 16:4 Yeshua gives the purpose for his telling the disciples about coming persecution.
"These things"-referring to everything He said in chapter 15, verses 18 and following. He is telling the disciples ahead of time what is going to happen to them at the hand of ungodly persecutors. His reason for doing this is to enable them to be spiritually armed for what they face. Even though they did not understand everything Yeshua told them immediately, they would remember them and understand them more fully later.
"To keep you from falling away"-the words "falling away" are from the Greek word skandalizo, which means "to be offended," or perhaps better, "to be caught off-guard," or "to be caught in a trap," or "to be shocked." This Greek term was originally used of a baited trap for catching animals. Its metaphorical use in this context refers to believers not being caught unawares by the hateful actions of fellow Jews, even religious leaders.
What would keep them from falling? Yeshua's teaching. Education, right teaching, is the key to correct behavior and standing strong. Because it is the truths contained in that teaching that will continually remind us of and strengthen our faith. I see this principle in my life in the area of fasting, when I first started fasting I would watch videos on the benefits of fasting. These would strengthen me to push through. Knowledge is power.
If Yeshua's disciples had been exposed to and believed the health/wealth gospel what would have happened when persecution came? The de-emphasis on suffering in the health/wealth gospel has veered into the heretical teaching that it's always God's will for you to enjoy financial prosperity and physical health. You're supposed to rebuke any sickness or suffering it in the name of the Lord. If it continues, you must not have enough faith. Had they believed this they would have all abandoned the faith.
You see up to this moment in time, the disciples had not experienced anything like this kind of persecution in the time they had spent with Yeshua. So Yeshua heads off disillusionment for the disciples by letting them know in advance that they will face persecution and even martyrdom as they seek to carry on his mission in the world after his departure.
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. John 16:2 ESV
Some in our day obviously misinterpret this to say; If you are a faithful follower of Christ, if you abide in Christ, all men will love you, you will always be healthy, you will acquire great wealth. And since he was talking to those who would be the foundation of the Church, the leaders, our Lord was saying to them; your will acquire great wealth from those you preach to, you will have tens of thousands of adoring fans, you will build mega-churches, fly the best private jets, have the largest homes and eat the finest foods.
This can't be a right interpretation because from the time of our Lord's death, believers have suffered constant persecution: ridicule, scorn, been hunted, arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and executed.
"They will put you out of the synagogues"-the Greek word here is aposynagogos. It means: "expelled from the synagogue." It appears only in the Gospel of John in the entire New Testament and only three times in John. By the time this Gospel was written that word was being used to describe Christians who had been expelled from worshiping God at the synagogue.
This expression first appeared in John 9:22 when our Lord healed the blind man. Later in that story we read:
(His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Yeshua to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) John 9:22 ESV
This word was also used in chapter 12, verse 42:
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; John 12:42 ESV
Now I realize that most in churcheanity would say, "If I was put out of the church, it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference in my life." Well that's sad, but being put out of the synagogue was nothing like be put out of the modern church.
If you were in first-century Judaism and you were thrown out of the synagogue, you were thrown out of the nation. There was no separation between the secular and the sacred. You were thrown out of your family; you lost your job; you lost your friends. You were a spiritual leper. You would be reduced, in many cases, to a beggar. To be "unsynagogued," would be literally to be eliminated from the hopes and the prerogatives of being Jewish. You are a rebel worse than a pagan Gentile. You would not be given the privilege of an honorable burial. You were a religious outlaw.
In the first century there were three degrees of excommunication. The lightest n'zifah, "rebuke", would be a ban that would last 7 days. The next degree was niddui, meaning "to cast out," lasted thirty days and carried a further penalty of shunning, in which people were required to stay four cubits (six feet) from the offender. The most sever was cherem, in which the offender was treated as though he was dead. It was a fearful penalty to be excommunicated and declared as one who is dead by one's own people. A permanent expulsion from the synagogue resulted in a curse on the offender that left him or her completely isolated from the community.
"The hour is coming when whoever kills you"-this is not referring to Yeshua's "hour", but to the disciples' hour. The pages of history are filled with thousands of examples of Christians of all ages, from every strata of society, from all walks of life, dying at the hand of executioners or persecutors for their faith in Christ.
As far as tradition is concerned all but the Apostle John were martyred in death. Steven was stoned to death. James, the brother of John, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. Phillip suffered martyrdom in Phrygia being scourged, imprisoned and crucified. Matthew was slain with a halberd in Nadabah. James the Less was beaten and stoned at the age of ninety-four and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller's club. Matthias was stoned and beheaded at Jerusalem. Andrew was crucified at Edessa on a cross with the two ends fixed transversely in the ground. Hence, the derivation of the term St. Andrew's Cross. Mark was dragged to pieces in Alexandria. Peter, according to Jerome, was crucified at Rome under Nero with his head down thinking himself unworthy to be crucified as his master. Jude was crucified at Edessa. Bartholomew was crucified in India. Thomas was thrust through in India with a spear. And Simon Zelotes was crucified in Britain. This is what tradition says. But so far as we know, the apostles and those that followed them often gave their lives for the testimony of the Lord Yeshua.
Those who deny the resurrection and say that the Apostles took and hid the dead body of Yeshua are crazy to think that these men would all suffer and be put to death for a known lie. No, they knew that Christ was alive and were willing to die for their faith. Those apostles and leaders in New Testament times suffered exactly what was the prophecy here.
Clement of Rome, who died in 100 A.D., wrote, "Through jealousy and envy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and put to death." It started out that way and it hasn't stopped. The leaders of the Roman Empire persecuted and killed Christians during the first three centuries. The persecution of Christians reached a high point during the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers were appalled by the moral, ethical, and doctrinal corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, and they spoke out against those corruptions. They denounced the Catholic Church, the system of salvation by works, the purchase of indulgences, the corruption of the mass, the priesthood, Mariolatry, all the rest; and the response from the Roman Catholic Church was violent and massive persecution.
Historian John Dowling wrote, The History of Romanism in 1845, and in that book he said this: "The Roman Catholic Church has put to death as many as 50 million heretics between A.D. 606, the birth of the papacy, and the mid-1800s."
"Whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God"-the word "service" here is from the Greek latreia, which is normal word for priestly religious service rendered at the altar in the temple of God. It is the standard word for service to God.
Because of the reference to service offered to God, it is almost certain that Yeshua has in mind Jewish opposition here. However, opposition that arises from religious conviction is often the most severe and brutal type.
Saul fit this description:
I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, Acts 22:4 ESV
Why was Saul doing this?
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. Galatians 1:13-14 ESV
Paul is saying, "The more Christians I threw out of the synagogue, the more Christians I killed, the more I advanced in my religion."
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).
The early persecutors were Jews; they persecuted Christians thinking they were serving God. The next wave of persecution came from the Romans, and they were persecuting Christians thinking they were serving their gods and Caesar, who they viewed as god.
During the Dark Ages, the Crusaders killed untold numbers of Jews and Arabs in the name of God. During the Middle Ages, the Catholics killed untold numbers of Protestants and Jews in the name of God.
During the reformation days many thought that they were doing God service when they burned the Christians. Men like Tyndale and Huss and Cranmer and Bilney and Latimer and all of that great line of Christian martyrs who have suffered for the sake of the Lord Yeshua.
And more recently, the self-declared Protestants of Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jews while wearing uniforms whose belt buckle bore the inscription, "Got Mit Uns," which means, "God With Us".
In modern times, the persecutor of Christianity across the world is Islam, and they think they're doing service to their god.
The Jews thought they were serving God. The Romans thought they were serving their gods. The Catholic Church thought they were serving God. Muslims think they're serving God. Futurists think they are serving God when they attack and excommunicate Preterist. The people who have persecuted and killed Christians through the years have done it in the name of their god and religion. Yeshua says:
And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. John 16:3 ESV
Ignorance of Yeshua and ignorance of the Father are also linked in 8:19; to know Yeshua would be to know the Father also, but since the world does not know Yeshua, neither does it know his Father.
But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. "I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. John 16:4 ESV
This is similar to what He said in verse 1, "I have said all these things to you" essentially reiterating what He said in verse 1. "I don't want you to be shocked. I want to fortify you in advance so that when it comes, you're going to know this is exactly what I said would happen."
When Yeshua was with the disciples, He was the lightning rod for persecution. But after He returned to the Father, they would catch the brunt of the opposition. So the Lord speaks these prophetic words so that they and we will be forewarned and thus forearmed. It is not be easy to be a faithful witness to Christ in this hostile world.
Why does God allow Christians to suffer? What is its purpose in our lives? I'm sure we could find several reasons why God has his people suffer, but I think the foremost reason is found in:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV
"But that was to make us rely not on ourselves"-is a hina purpose clause. It is during the times of suffering and persecution that we learn to trust in God.
What can we do for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are suffering and dying for their faith?
He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:10-11 ESV
We can pray for them. If that seems trite to you, then you do not understand the nature of prayer or the power of God.