Persecution Foreseen and Foretold
John 16:2, 3
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yes, the time comes, that whoever kills you will think that he does God service.…

The great aim of the Lord Jesus, in his final conversations with his apostles, was to convince them of their perfect union with himself. They were the branches of the living Vine; they were his beloved and confidential friends. Were these revelations made merely to assure them of privilege, merely to make them happy in the consciousness of an honorable and inseparable relation? Certainly not. This spiritual fellowship was to be the power for holy service and the motive to patient endurance. It is in this last respect that, in the verses before us, our Lord relied upon the revelation already made as sufficient to secure his disciples from being "offended" with him. He felt that, having explained the community of life and interest subsisting between himself and his own, he might open up before them the prospect of persecution. Forewarned, they would thus be forearmed. He treated them herein not as children, but as soldiers in a spiritual war, whose allegiance he did not doubt, and of whose fortitude he was perfectly assured.

I. THE NATURE OF PERSECUTION. It was no new thing in the world that men should be pursued with bitter hostility for their devotion to truth, to duty, to righteousness, to God. The history of Israel contained but too many illustrations of the enmity with which the good have been assailed by those to whom their life and testimony were a rebuke. And Jesus foresaw that confessors and martyrs were to render a service in his kingdom, both by establishing the faith upon a basis of hard trial and proof, and by extending the truth amongst unbelievers. Jesus here refers to two ways in which his disciples should experience the hostility of an unbelieving world.

1. Ecclesiastical censure and excommunication. Doubtless the reference here is to the Jews. Even during our Lord's ministry, those who confessed him were in some instances excluded from the synagogues. And when the Church was constituted by the descent of the Spirit, and especially when the broad designs of Christianity as a religion, not for Israel only, but for mankind, were clearly exhibited, then the hostility of the bigoted among the Jewish leaders and the Jewish populace knew no hounds. Reverencing everything connected with the Law and the prophets, the preachers of Christ would fain have resorted to the synagogues as of old, would fain have reasoned out of the Scriptures with a view of proving that Jesus was the Messiah, and of showing how his religion realized all the types and predictions of Judaism. But the merit and the glory of Christianity was, in the eyes of legalists and formalists, its chief offence; and a sharp line was drawn, over which the followers of the Nazarene were not suffered to step.

2. Temporal and corporal infliction, reaching even to death. The Jews did, as we know from the record of the Acts, even very early in the history of the Christian faith, carry their enmity so tar as to inflict capital punishment upon a Christian advocate. But it seems as if our Lord, in this prediction, looked forward to events which should follow the proclamation of the gospel among the Gentiles. The annals of the Church of Christ are rich indeed in instances of martyrdom. And it has passed into a proverb, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

II. THE MOTIVE TO PERSECUTION. Our Lord admitted that the motive to much of the persecution that should assail the professors of the faith was a conscientious and even a religious motive. Events have confirmed this attribution of motive. No doubt there have been persecutors who have acted from interested, selfish motives. But there have been those who have persecuted Christians in the belief that they were doing God a service, offering to him an acceptable sacrifice in the blood of the "faithful unto death" The Jews particularly were, in many instances, influenced in their hostility to Christians by a reverence for what they believed, however erroneously, to be the perfect religion, capable of no addition, no improvement. The professions and claims made first by Jesus, and afterwards by his servants on his behalf, were of a very high and authoritative character. Christ was either the Son of God or be was a blasphemer; and we know that the latter view was taken by many of the Jewish unbelievers. It is no justification of evil conduct that those guilty of it are sincere; yet sincere ignorance is an extenuation, though not a vindication, of guilt. Alas! what evils have been wrought in the name, not only of liberty, but of religion!

III. THE EXPLANATION OF PERSECUTION. Our Lord was a Revealer of all hearts. He looked below the profession, and even below the belief. He penetrated deep into the spiritual nature of men, and was familiar with the hidden springs of thought and of action. There was a reason, not in every case known to the agents themselves, for the actions which they committed. The Lord Jesus was able to account for conduct by searching the inner nature. And so doing he discovered, in the spiritual ignorance of the persecutors, the true and all-sufficient reason for their attitude and proceedings. "They have not known the Father, nor me." They cannot "know" Christ by the knowledge, that is, of spiritual appreciation and sympathy, who persecute and slay his friends and the promulgators of his faith. They must utterly misunderstand him, his character, and his mission, if they suppose that God can be pleased when Christians are persecuted. For it is not to be believed that the Father can look with satisfaction upon injuries done to his own Son in the person of his followers. Had the Jews known Christ, they would not have slain the Lord of glory. And none who truly knew our Lord could have persecuted his faithful people in order to do his Father service. - T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

WEB: They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time comes that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God.

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