“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Because they are not part of the world’s system, Christians should expect it to hate and oppose them.
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you doubtless remember how soon you realized that you were no longer in step with the world’s culture. You were no longer comfortable with its philosophy. You no longer had the world’s desires and yearnings. You no longer felt good about doing some of the things the world takes for granted. In fact, you even felt constrained to speak out against such things and urge unbelievers to turn from their sins and embrace Christ. All that opposition to worldliness, when added up, can and will result in hatred toward us from people in the world.
In John 15, the Greek word translated “world” (kosmos) refers to the world’s system of sin, which is devised by Satan and acted out by sinful people. The Devil and his angels sometimes make it even more difficult for us by subtly presenting their “religion” as if it were true. Such deception can lull us into complacency and leave us spiritually weak when persecution comes.
Because of the world’s relentless opposition to God’s kingdom, it is crucial that we remember Christ’s call to stand for Him in our sinful society. The apostle Paul exhorts us to be “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15).
If we take Scripture seriously and prayerfully spend time in it daily, we will not be caught off guard when our faith is opposed. Instead, we will be heartened by Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Lord to strengthen you today and to remind you that even though you are not of the world, you are to be a light to it.
For Further Study: Read the account of John the Baptist’s death in Mark 6:14–29. How did John suffer before he was killed? ✧ What character differences do you see between John and Herod?
The World Rejects Those Who Are Not Part of It
If the world hates you … If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (15:18a–19)
Kosmos (world) refers in this context to the evil, fallen world system comprised of unregenerate people and controlled by Satan (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19; cf. Eph. 2:1–3). Because Satan hates God he also hates the true people of God. They are targets for his wrath as he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8; cf. Eph. 6:11). Since its ruler hates believers, it is hardly surprising that the world also hates them, because they are not of the world. The world resents believers because their godly lives condemn its evil works; “he who is upright in the way is abominable to the wicked” (Prov. 29:27). In 1 John 3:12 John illustrated that principle with the story of the first murder in human history: “Cain … was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.” On the other hand, the world applauds those who practice evil (Rom. 1:32).
Though believers live in the world (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9–10), they are to stand apart from it as an indictment of it. Paul charged the Philippians, “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness,” he admonished the Ephesians, “but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
While worldly people hate those who follow Jesus Christ, they love each other. Unbelievers are comfortable with and supportive of other unbelievers. If you were of the world, Jesus said, the world would love its own. The conditional clause in verse 18 (If the world hates you) expresses a condition assumed to be true. This conditional clause, however, expresses a condition assumed to be false; the Lord’s statement might be translated, “If you were of the world (and you are not).…” Had the disciples been part of the world, they would have experienced the imperfect love the world has for its own. Love is from phileō, which refers to “natural affection and passion, and not [agapaō], the high, intelligent, purposeful love of an ethical state” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel [repr.; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998], 1055).
Christians are not part of the world because Jesus chose them out of the world (cf. Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:26; Heb. 2:14–15). The emphatic use of the pronoun egō (I) and the reflexive sense of the middle voice verb translated chose shows that Jesus chose them for Himself. All credit for the disciples’ salvation belongs to Him (cf. John 15:16).
The doctrine of election silences human pride. Paul reminded the Ephesians that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.… to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4, 6). To the Romans he wrote, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:27–28). In the next chapter he added, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:2).
The World Hates Believers
Because It Hated Jesus Christ
you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.… Remember the word that I said 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 keep yours also. (15:18b, 20)
Christians should not be surprised at the world’s hostility toward them, since it hated Jesus (cf. 7:7) before it hated them (cf. 17:14). That hatred has been manifested throughout John’s gospel. In 5:16 “the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath”; in verse 18 “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God”; in 7:1 “the Jews were seeking to kill Him”; in verse 32 “the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him”; in 8:59 and 10:31 “they picked up stones to throw at Him”; in 11:47–53 they plotted to kill Him; eventually they arrested Him, beat Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him. No wonder, then, that the writer of Hebrews called on his readers to “consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself” (Heb. 12:3).
Jesus’ word that He had earlier said to the disciples, A slave is not greater than his master, refers to His statement in 13:16. There, however, the Lord was speaking of humblest service of a slave. He, “the Lord and the Teacher” (v. 14) had humbly washed their feet, and the disciples were to follow His example (v. 15). Here Christ’s point was that the disciples should expect to follow His example of suffering (cf. 1 Peter 2:21); they had no right to expect better treatment from the world than He had received. If they persecuted Me, Jesus reiterated, they will also persecute you. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had told them, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matt. 10:24–25). Believers identify with Jesus Christ in the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10; cf. 2 Cor. 1:5; Gal. 6:17; Col. 1:24).
But the picture was not entirely bleak; the Lord went on to add, If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. As was the case with Jesus, the majority would reject the disciples’ teaching and persecute them. But there would always be a minority (cf. Matt. 7:14; 22:14; Luke 13:24) who would accept the disciples’ message. The joy of seeing those few come to faith in Christ far outweighs the sorrow caused by the hatred and hostility of the many who reject the gospel.
15:18, 19 The disciples were not to be surprised or disheartened if the world hates them. (The if does not express any doubt that this would happen; it was certain.) The world hated the Lord, and it will hate all who resemble Him.
Men of the world love those who live as they do—those who use vile language and indulge in the lusts of the flesh, or people who are cultured but live only for themselves. Christians condemn them by their holy lives, therefore the world hates them.
18 “If the world hates you” is a conditional clause that assumes the premise to be true. The world does hate the disciple. Lindars speaks of a Semitic use of the love/hate antithesis in which the words lack emotional intensity (493) and “merely express contrasting attitudes” (429). But if “to hate” means no more than “to prefer less,” then it is difficult to see how such a mild emotion could drive people to crucify Jesus. The history of martyrdom is a graphic portrayal of the world’s intense hostility toward those who took their Christian faith with all seriousness. Wherever and whenever the church has spoken with conviction against the injustices in society, it has experienced the wrath of those who benefit from the status quo.
Barclay, 2:184, suggests that the name “Christian” was hated because followers of Christ were rumored to be insurrectionists, cannibals, incendiaries, flagrantly immoral people, and those who tried to divide families. Fraudulent and misinformed charges such as these were in fact leveled at the primitive church, but the actual cause for their being hated was that Christians advocated a set of values that were fundamentally opposed to those of the pagan world. There is nothing quite as upsetting as to have one’s essential value-orientation called into question. Christians were an ethical burr under the saddle of secular society. Hatred was the result. Speaking of the world’s hatred of God, and of man for God’s sake, Reith, 2:107, says rather poetically that the wave that began to rise with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain gathered through the ages until it “broke in fury on the cross, and we are struggling in its broken waters.” When we find ourselves overlooked or opposed by contemporary ideology, we must remember Jesus’ words: “it hated me first.” Hatred for the believer is hatred for the One whose life is being lived out through the believer. It is persecution based on association. It is “enduring what still needs to be endured of Christ’s sorrows” (Col 1:24 Beck).
19 In contrast to the simple condition of v. 18, “if you belonged to the world” of v. 19 is a contrary-to-fact conditional clause. If it were true (and of course it isn’t) that the disciples belonged to this world, then it would love them as its own. It is impossible for the world not to love its own minions. Such love is self-love, and the kosmos is not about to deny itself the mindless adulation of self-approval. The disciple, however, does not belong to this world but has been chosen “out of the world.” The action of Jesus in choosing is emphasized by the presence of the personal pronoun egō (“I”). He himself is the one who has selected out his followers from among those who live without regard for God in the world. To be chosen out of the world does not imply some sort of other-worldly pietism—it simply designates believers as a group that have been removed from the secular mind-set of society and given the new perspective of God’s plan for the human race. Temple, 2:272, notes that the antagonism of the world against Christians stems from the fact that those who began in the world have separated themselves from the world. He writes that the world “would not hate angels for being angelic; but it does hate men for being Christians. It grudges them their new character; it is tormented by their peace; it is infuriated by their joy.” “That is why the world hates you,” says Jesus, because “I have chosen you out of the world.”
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 171–173). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1551). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 580–581). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.