Once the Assistant comes—the truthful Spirit who goes out from the Father, whom I will send to all of you from the Father—he’ll testify about me. So will all of you testify about me, because you’ve been with me since the beginning. I’ve told you these things so that none of you would be freaked out by them. People will ban you all from their fellowships. The time will come when anyone who kills any of you will think it’s a duty, an offering to God. They’ll do such things because they know neither the Father nor me. I’ve told you these things so that once their time comes, you’d all remember the things I’ve told you.
—Jesus, John 15.26 - 16.4 KWL
Christians in the United States tend to be of the attitude that opposition shouldn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen here, anyway: We live in a country with freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. We should be able to say and believe whatever we like, and nobody can tell us different.
Historically, this has rarely been the case. Utter freedom of speech is an American idea and invention, which didn’t exist anywhere in the world—other than in societies with liberal leaders, or with no leadership at all—before the states redrafted their constitutions in 1776. It didn’t nationally exist until Amendment 1 was added to the Constitution in 1789.
Before the U.S. existed, countries would have pockets of free speech, depending on the generosity of the local rulers. But that generosity wasn’t consistent. Under one king, England persecuted Protestants; under that same king, years later, England welcomed them; under his daughter, they were persecuted again; under his other daughter, they were welcomed again. Americans, learning from this history, decided to avoid the strife altogether by keeping the government out of it. Free speech has its risks, like hate speech or calls to violence; but the benefits far outweigh the risks.
But centuries before Protestantism or the United States, there was the Roman Empire, where the only ones who could truly say what they liked… didn’t live there. Speak out against the king or emperor, even constructive criticism, and you’d get beheaded or crucified. Speak out against God, as many atheists freely do today, and you’d get stoned to death by outraged Pharisees. We take our freedom of speech for granted; so much so that we often can’t imagine the idea of getting dragged out of a church, tossed off a cliff, and having rocks thrown down upon us, simply over words. We get outraged at the idea of people doing nothing more than saying, “Do that elsewhere”—not even censorship, but relocation. We have it so good in this country that we can’t relate.
So try. In Jesus’s day, in his country, there was no freedom of speech. Blasphemy was whatever the Pharisees said it was. If you were a Christian, went into a synagogue, and tried to explain to folks that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God, you’ll convince some… but you’ll offend others, and if they make enough of a stink, your life would be in danger, as we see Paul experience many times in Acts.
So here, Jesus warns his followers in advance. Opposition should come as no surprise to them. People were going to think them heretics. They would refuse to let them preach, refuse to associate with them, drive them out of town, kill them lest their dangerous ideas collect followers. Because, as Jesus points out, “they know neither the Father nor me.”
In the United States, because of our freedoms, we’ve been insulated from a certain amount of this. We might get booted from a church, but we don’t expect any of the other forms of opposition. In fact, sometimes we teach that we shouldn’t expect any opposition—that because our work and message is from God, he’ll prepare our way and quickly conquer any opposition. We’ll allow for some resistance—but regular, non-stop, unending, constant harassment? That shouldn’t be. At some point the resistance has to end, or be defeated, and we achieve victory. Right?
Wrong. Jesus promises no such thing. Our happy ending is when he returns. Not before.
There will be cases when opposition comes… and goes. Detractors will discredited and fall by the wayside. Enemies will repent. But there will also be cases where they’re convinced that fighting us is a spiritual calling—that what they do is an “offering to God.” Look at any of the loony websites (or don’t; they’re wearying) where these folks, who call themselves Christian, rage against anything and everything. They call every Christian but themselves a cult-leader, a heretic, a dupe of the devil, a false prophet, and every horrible thing that their followers will let them get away with. And they’ll keep doing so for the rest of their lives, because they’re convinced that they’re right to do so, and that Jesus will reward them for it. And if you gave them any political power—God forbid—they’d quickly use it to persecute their “enemies.”
Do not be surprised by this. Jesus warned us of it beforehand.
But our hope is that we’re not alone in this. As Jesus said right before his warning, he’d send us the Holy Spirit to work among us and testify about Jesus. We’re not alone; we have God’s support. Even when we get opposed; even when we get killed; even if our nation’s protections are taken away and we’re forced to ride out a great tribulation. Even then, we have God with us. Trust in him, and don’t look to circumstances to show you what to expect or think.
“Assistant”—lit. pará-klitos, one who comes alongside; usu. “comforter” or “advocate” or “helper.”
“Truthful Spirit”—or “Spirit of truth.”
“Freaked out by them”—usu. “offended,” lit. “scandalized”—tripped up by what is essentially a booby trap for knee-jerk reactions.
“Fellowships”—usu. “synagogues,” which actually means “gathering-together,” i.e. fellowships.
“An offering to God”—or “to offer to God.”
Check out the Biblos Interlinear Bible, specifically verses 26-27 in John 15, and verses 1-4 in John 16. You can also look at Bible Gateway, either at the Greek New Testament, or at the Amplified Bible.