If the culture hates you all, recognize that it’s hated me before it hated you. If none of you are conformed to the culture, the culture loves its own. You’re not conformed to the culture; I plucked you out of it. Because of this, the culture hates you all. Remember what I taught you all: Slaves aren’t greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they’ll persecute you. If they followed me, they’ll follow you. But they’ll do these things to you all because of my name; because they haven’t known the One who sent me. If I never came and spoke to them, they’d have no sin. Now they have a motive for their sin. My haters likewise hate my Father. If I didn’t perform works before them that they’ve never done, they’d have no sin. Now they’ve seen—and they’ve hated me and my Father. But this is so that this, which was written in their Law—“They hated me for no reason”[Ps 34.19, 68.5] —might be fulfilled.
—Jesus, John 15.18-25 KWL
Here, Jesus warns his followers that they’re gonna be hated in the same way that he’s been hated, and gets straight to the motive why we’re hated. It’s no real reason, which is why he quoted, “They hated me for no reason.” It’s because Jesus is different. He doesn’t act like them; he doesn’t behave, or conform, like the Establishment expects him to, or approves of. Neither do his followers. He, and we, defy convention; we follow God instead of the popular culture, even if it’s the popular religious culture—in Jesus’s day, Pharisee tradition, and in our day, cultural Christianity.
The reason Jesus doesn’t behave in a way the culture approves of, is because the culture doesn’t really know God. Oh, it claims to; it always has. That’s how it justifies its behavior: God has favored its undertakings—just as it says on the great seal of the United States, the “Annuit coeptis” on the back of our dollar bill. The reason for our success, our wealth, our power, our peace and security, is God’s blessing. How dare anyone prophesy otherwise? How dare anyone criticize our nation, our culture, our behavior? We belong to God; who dares say otherwise?
Well, that’d be Jesus. If we don’t actually do as he teaches—if we figure that we’re just fine with God, despite violating his commands on a regular basis, and counting on his grace to make up for our utter lack of respect for him—we’re not showing him love. We’re showing him hatred. What else would you call it when you utterly disregard someone’s wishes, and in fact do the very opposite of them?
So here Jesus warns his followers that we’re gonna encounter the very same opposition he does. Because if we swim upstream against the culture in pursuit of Christ—if we don’t conform to the culture’s expectations of what a Christian ought to do, like be passive or withdrawn, or keep our beliefs to ourselves, or not speak out against evil because we’re supposed to “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Mt 7.1) —we’re going to butt heads against people, even fellow Christians, who have no interest in truly following Jesus, who don’t want to be convicted of their sins, and who have gone to great lengths to avoid any such conviction.
That’s what Jesus was doing with the Pharisees. His miracles had made it obvious that he was functioning with the power and approval of God. As Nicodemus pointed out, Jesus couldn’t have done as he did without God backing him. (Jn 3.2) But because Jesus didn’t do as the Pharisees wanted, they refused to accept the obvious evidence. They instead looked for excuses to condemn him: “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Not that this explanation convinced everyone: “How could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” (Jn 9.16) But if you’re determined enough, any excuse to doubt or overturn Jesus will do. Or you can do what our wider culture does: Manufacture its own Jesus, who looks nothing like the actual Jesus, who would never convict anyone of anything.
The reason certain Pharisees hated Jesus—and the reason certain so-called Christians hate him too—is because if they look at Jesus as he really is, as the gospels reveal him, they have to face their own sins. The real Jesus convicts them. They argue, “We’re under grace, not the Law; none of the commandments count anymore.” Jesus says, “I didn’t come to abolish the Law, but fulfill it; if you violate it, you’ll be least in the Kingdom.” (Mt 5.17-19) They argue, “We can serve both God and riches, because God gave us those riches.” Jesus says, “No you can’t; you’ll have to choose between them.” (Mt 6.24) They argue, “All we have to do is call out to Jesus and we’ll go to heaven.” Jesus says, “Not everyone who calls out to me will go to heaven; I won’t know those people who violate God’s laws.” (Mt 7.21-23)
Well, people don’t like to think of themselves as evil. Some do; some revel in their own evil. But for the most part, people justify themselves: They do evil because they’re forced to, and have no choice, and aren’t themselves evil; they just do evil. Or they redefine their actions as “necessary evil,” or even relabel them as good. And when Jesus confronts them with their own sin, they don’t accept his correction. Instead, they hate him for bringing it up. And they hate us for bringing him up.
So Jesus warns us of this fact. We ought not be surprised by it. It’s typical human nature. Heck, some of us still do this—when our fellow Christians correct us for going astray, our first reaction isn’t always, “Thanks for straightening me out,” but “Who the f--- are you to tell me how to behave?” It’s animosity instead of gratitude. But to learn and grow, we have to learn to love correction. (Pr 12.1) It is, after all, meant to bring us life; it’s a sign that God loves us, (Pr 3.11-12) and isn’t neglecting us, leaving us to wander astray, and figure things out on our own. It’s how God shows his love for us—and the proper response is to love him back. But if we don’t know God, the typical response will be to hate him back, and turn instead to the gods we’ve manufactured, and take comfort in them, and reject the true God.
“The culture”—usu. “the world.” Greek kósmos, which refers to the established order, the universe we know.
“Before it hated you”—lit. “before you all.”
“Conformed to the universe”—lit. “being out of the cosmos.”
“Plucked you”—lit. “chose you.”
“What I taught you”—lit. “the word which I said to you.”
“Slaves… their master”—lit. singular.
“They followed me, they’ll follow you”—lit. “they kept the word of me, they’ll keep the [thing of] you.”
“That they’ve never done”—lit. “which nothing other they did.”