“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.
And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.
And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” John 16:1-4 NKJV
In John 16:1-4, Jesus discusses the topic of persecution. However, these verses do not refer to worldly people in general, but to hostile religious leaders. In other words, the biggest enemies of Christians are not atheists, agnostics, humanists, new age or liberals.
Those who are seeking to persecute and kill Christians are religious zealots and leaders. In John 16:1, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.” “These things” refer to Jesus’ words in John 15:18-27.
Jesus did not want His disciples to stumble in their discipleship after His departure because He knew the events that would soon follow would take them completely by surprise. Jesus’ point is that, apart from His warning, their faith would be shattered and they would give up in defeat.
Remember, they were still going to be scattered that very night (Luke 22:31). While they may have stumbled initially, the Book of Acts demonstrates that the disciples did not fall away; instead, they became emboldened to preach Jesus Christ.
Jesus informs His disciples of the consequences of persecution in John 16:2-3: “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.”
Those who will expel Jesus’ disciples from the synagogue are referred to in John 15:21-25. Being put out of the synagogue means more than merely lacking a place to worship. It means the loss of the entire circle of friends who attend the synagogue. It is a social persecution.
These verses were fulfilled in the days of the early church when the Jews believed they were on God’s side, when they put Jesus to death and persecuted His disciples. However, these verses also seem to have an extended relevance to today. Throughout the world, Christians are still being persecuted and martyred.
How do we prepare ourselves to stand strong for Christ in the days to come?
We must learn to love the world when we are hated and persecuted. We must continually avoid the temptation to fight back and be combative, harsh, and vindictive. When we behave in this manner, we lose our witness. We must recognize that Jesus’ love is the only proper response to hate and persecution. Only He can soften hearts and cause our enemies to be receptive to Him.
It is also important to express love for our fellow believers. One of the reasons that Jesus exhorts believers to love one another is because we will need each other’s strength to combat the world system.
Unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family, and friends will turn against us on account of our faith in Christ. When this happens, we will need the strength and security of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to “spur one another on to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). This will enable us to persevere in our Christian fruitfulness.
In Luke 6:22 Jesus says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” Jesus promises those who suffer for Him both temporal and eternal rewards.
Consequently, it makes sense to pay the price in this life and experience Christ’s pleasure and joy in the life to come.
How many times have I been ridiculed because of my Christian witness?
What do I need to keep in mind when others despise me?