Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 15:20 (Holman) “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.”
No Christian can say we were not amply warned about persecution. When John wrote these words, the world had already begun to show intense hatred against Christ-followers.
Tacitus spoke of people “hated for their crimes, whom the mob call Christians.” Suetonius referred to Christ-followers as “a race of men who belong to a new and evil superstition.”
The early Christians were often persecuted on false accusations. One, Christians were considered disloyal citizens. The Roman Empire, vast and usually well-liked, felt it needed something to unify its many different people groups.
Once a year every subject was to go to a Roman temple, burn a pinch of incense to the godhead of Caesar, and confess “Caesar is Lord,” to show loyalty to Rome. After this act, people could go worship any god they desired.
Rome considered this request harmless, but it was a supreme blasphemy Christ-followers could not say. To them it was anathema. They confessed “Christ is Lord” and could not bring themselves to say “Caesar is Lord.” Rome thus considered them dangerous and disloyal, though they were model citizens.
Early believers were persecuted because they put Christ first. Persecution still dogs people who prioritize Jesus.
Two, Christians were called cannibals. Due to a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper formula, “This is my body,” rumors claimed Christians ate human flesh. When unbelievers believed this slander, the Christians were, not surprisingly, looked on with loathing.
Three, Christians were accused of immorality. They greeted each other with a kiss of peace and called their weekly meal a Love Feast. Enemies accused them of orgies involving all kinds of sexual perversions.
Four, Christians were feared to be arsonists. They believed the Earth would someday be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).
Gossips whispered the news, these people love fire. When Rome burned, Nero found a very accessible scapegoat in the people who preached about consuming fire.
Five, Christians were considered anti-family. They broke up homes. If a family member received Jesus, conflict occurred. Divided loyalties caused trouble.
In light of these accusations hurled against believers, it is little wonder Christian was a hated name. Much of the mudslinging stuck.
In our day our foes sometimes say we are persecuted for trying to force our beliefs on others. Not true! The experience of the early church proved the world would hassle us even if we tried to go into hiding.
The world is uncomfortable with people who are different. Different is suspect. When Jonas Hanway introduced the umbrella in England, he was pelted with stones and dirt when he walked down the street beneath one.
Different creates tension. As long as the world and the Church differ, the world will persecute us.
John 15:21 “But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me.”
We are persecuted because we carry the name of Christ. Tertullian, who sealed his witness by his blood, said in the midst of persecution, “among all the malefactors you condemn there is not a Christian to be found chargeable with any crime but His name. So much is the hatred of our name above all the advantages of worth flowing from it. Setting aside all inquiry into the principle of our religion and its Founder, and all knowledge of them, the mere name is laid hold of; the name is attacked; and a word alone prejudges a sect unknown, and its Author also unknown, because they have a name, not because they are convicted” (Biblical Illustrator, page 674).
John 15:22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin.”
“They have no excuse for their sin” is a disquieting thought. Excuses have been a specialty of each sinner’s stock-in-trade since Eden. We like to mask our sins.
John 15:23 “The one who hates Me also hates My Father.”
Rejection of God is a root cause of persecution. The world does not know God, therefore it ill treats God’s people.
Many people who will not deny God’s existence hope there is none. They hope there is no one to whom they will ever have to give an account.
John 15:24 “If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father.”
It is sad but true, the persecution of Christians began among God’s chosen nation. The very people to whom Jesus was sent, and from which He descended, and before whom He worked miracles, began the persecution.
God’s people still harass one another. We are much more famous for our fights and squabbles than for our love. We need God to make us one.
John 15:25 “But this happened so that the statement written in their law might be fulfilled: They hated Me for no reason.”
“For no reason” means without justifiable cause. People’s hostility toward Christ, who was totally kind and holy, was inexcusable. It was pure hatred without legitimate grounds.
All others have something in them which calls out at times our anger or dislikes. But in Jesus there was nothing but pure love and unblemished perfection.
Christ was crucified because He was good. Treachery like this can never be justified. His goodness clashed with people’s love for evil. His high standard interfered with their daily procedures.
The world crucified Christ because His purity condemned their sinfulness, His kindness their selfishness, His humility their pride, His boldness their cowardice, His truth their heresies, and His spirituality their carnality.
Rome was the most beneficent, enlightened, and tolerant large government the world had ever seen, yet crucified Jesus.
God let Jesus be condemned by the world’s finest government, as if He wanted us to know Jesus would have been ill-treated by people, no matter when or where He had come.
If Jesus came today, many would, in an instant replay of His first coming, try to silence Him. Very few would stay with Him, as John and Mary did at the foot of the cross. Many would love him, but would hide for fear, as the disciples did when they scattered. The multitudes would be glad to get rid of Him.
To prove our depravity humans do not need to point at adultery, hatred, homosexuality, bloodshed. All we have to do is remind ourselves we committed deicide – we put God to death. This is the pinnacle and climax of people’s pyramid of guilt. We outdid ourselves when we put Jesus on a cross.