John (Part 55): The Hatred of the World (ch 15)

05/04/2015 10:06

Jesus explains the flow of love thoroughly in John 15:12-17. He explains that central to love is the selfless nature of the lover. Stressing the greatest love of totally giving up self for the sake of friends, Jesus effectively describes what he would be doing in loving them—giving up himself for their benefit in coming into relationship with God. Thus, love is selflessly giving the truth, goodness, and beauty of God to others for their benefit and our relational joy. (The “our” in this statement is meant to include the whole covenant family of God.) This is the reason that in this passage Jesus links so closely, and goes back and forth so much between, the ideas of remaining in him and following his command to love.

The following diagram explains this flow of love in God's creation purpose.

God’s creation purpose was to create image bearers with whom to have everlasting love relationship. The three-part image symbolizes the Trinity. Notice the circle through the image or symbol. This denotes the flow of love within the Trinity. We find in this image, taken alone, the full sufficiency of God. His bonding food (his very essence) is truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB). The flow of this bond communicates that TGB in love among the Trinity. (That’s the philosophical and logical necessity for the Trinity. Without the three-in-one concept, God would not have been able to be a God of love prior to creation since there would have been no one to whom he could communicate in love. But since God is Trinity, we may logically presume he has always been a God of love, communicating that love among the Persons of the Trinity, and thus be eternally fulfilled, satisfied, and lacking nothing on his own.)

Since God is a God of love, he determined to create in order to multiply that love. The image that appears in the diagram as a sort of double trinity is meant to symbolize the multiple-in-one image bearers God created with whom to engage in love relationship. Notice God communicates in love (reveals his TGB) to his created image bearers. They, in turn, may reflect God’s TGB back to him. Importantly also, that love is reflected among his multiple-in-one creation (represented by the circle within the symbol), which also images God’s love flow among members of the Trinity.

But sin spoiled this plan and purpose of God. The perfect reception and reflection of God’s TGB in love ended when Adam and Eve withdrew their trust from God, for his sourced TGB, and placed trust in themselves. This did not, however, catch God unawares. Anticipating through his infinite knowledge of possibility, God made plan to remedy the broken relationship through a redemption plan of himself joining with his created image bearers to rescue them through representation. We have this image pictured in the diagram below. 

The cross, of course, represents Jesus, the perfect image bearer, born of God, who came to effect the rescue of us and God’s purpose. God’s revelatory love flowed to him. He, as perfect image bearer, perfectly reflected God’s TGB in love back to God and also to us. In fact, in that reflection to us, he himself was actually God’s revelation in love to us. When in faith and hope we embrace God’s revelation, we then are transformed/born again as children of Jesus and thus children of God. In communion with God, then, we are able to reflect God’s TGB back to God, back to Jesus, and, also importantly, to each other. This, then, restores God’s creation purpose for everlasting love relationship. And this flow of love is what produces the bonding fruit of joy that Jesus mentions in John 15:11. Notice that in this verse Jesus says that he wants his joy in the disciples and that the disciples joy may be complete. That is the flow: God’s TGB through love coming from Jesus to the disciples (“My joy may be in you”) and God’s TGB being reflected by the disciples in love to each other (that “your joy may be complete”).

Jesus turns from this discussion of their new relationship in him and with God to a certain negative consequence of this relationship. The disciples were related with all human creatures (through Adam) in a state of broken relationship from God. To engage in this new relationship with God hrough Jesus’s rescuing work, it necessarily meant that their relationship with the rest of humanity would then be broken. This is what Jesus emphasizes in 15:18 through 16:4. Just as the world hated Jesus, the world’s love for them would turn to hate as their relationship with the world was broken. Jesus describes this hate in verse 20b: If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.”

That statement sounds like a contrast, as if Jesus is speaking on one hand of God rejecters persecuting, and on the other hand of God accepters following or keeping the disciples’ word as the word from God. Although Jesus does use this phrase at times to characterize his followers (John 14:15), I think the meaning here in 15:20 has a negative connotation. Consider that the following verse (21) remarks, “But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me.” Verse 20 specifies the “things” to which verse 21 refers: persecuting and keeping. And they do these things, according to verse 21, because they don’t know God. Thus, it would appear that the keeping of Jesus’s word and the disciples’ word is a negative activity done because the Jews did not know God. The Greek word translated keep means to watch carefully. And the unbelieving Pharisees did in fact listen carefully to what Jesus said in order to entrap him. This, I believe is what Jesus was referring to. In other words, if the Jews persecuted and carefully listened to what Jesus said in order to hurt him, they would persecute and listen to what the disciples said in order to hurt them also.

We may wonder why the world would hate Jesus and thus hate the disciples and other Christians as well. If they didn’t believe that Jesus was from God, could they not just ignore him? What causes the hate in non-Christians both then and now?

The rejection of God is not simply choosing among ideas to hold in personal opinion. God brings all people to the Eden choice: relationship with God (recognizing him as the source of truth, goodness, and beauty and trusting him for that) or trusting in self, thereby exalting self. Adam and Eve chose wrongly. And while it is true that we suffer the consequence of Adam’s wrong choice, God’s redemptive plan brings that choice to each of us. God does so through his general and specific revelation of who he is. Paul speaks of this in Romans 1. The God rejecter denies this revelation, although realizing its truth, in order to maintain his or her own self-exalted image as controller or definer of what is true, good, and beautiful. But, lacking justification to see him/herself as the standard of TGB (and feeling the condemnation of God), the God denier’s selfishness, in frustration, turns to hate. And thus it is that the worlds sees Christians, not only as not friends, but also, in fact, as hated enemies.

The last two verses of chapter 15 could seem out of place for a discussion of the world’s persecution that doesn’t end until 16:4, but they do actually fit in here. First, however, we need some clarification on the verb tense. In verse 26, Jesus says that the Spirit “will testify” about him. This is future tense, which is proper because Jesus is speaking of the Spirit after he comes at Pentecost. But because of this future tense, most translations change the Greek present tense for the disciples’ testifying to future as well. Thus, the HCSB renders it: “You also will testify.” And the ESV, KJV, and even NASB have a similar future expression (although the NASB at least puts “will” in italics to show that it has been added to the Greek). But the Greek has this statement in the present tense. If we take it as in the indicative mood, it would be translated, “You also are testifying.” But this doesn’t seem to fit because the whole discussion is about what would happen when Jesus left them, and not about what was currently happening.

Rather than the indicative mood, we could understand this present tense statement in the imperative mood. In that sense, it could be translated simply, “You also testify!” as a command or exhortation by Jesus. Probably it would be more easily understood this way if “must were added: “You also must testify.” This is, in fact, how it is translated in the NIV, and I believe rightly so.

Jesus offers a clarifying comment when saying that the Counselor would come. Explaining who the Counselor is, he calls him “the One I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.” We have talked of why Jesus made such statements as “the Father is greater than I” (14:28). It is because in his humanity, Jesus acknowledged the Father’s deity as greater. But in 15:26, we could interpret the sending and proceeding identification as terms of rank or hierarchy regarding the Spirit and the Father and also Jesus. As we view the Trinity here, should we use these statements to inform our understanding of the Trinity? Well, of course, we use the Bible to inform our understanding. But we must be careful so that we use it circumspectly, “correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15c). For that reason, we need to momentarily put our progression through John on hold to talk about the Trinity.

First, a brief history. Of course, the word “Trinity” does not appear in Scripture. Thus, its development as a doctrine did not really take place until misunderstanding and distortion was advanced. In the late 200s and early 300s, a priest in Alexandria named Arius taught that Jesus was not of the same essence as the Father, but rather a created being. This more than likely had root in the Platonism of the day that emphasized pure being as transcendent to us, thus if Jesus is one of us or even simply that he can relate to us, he must have been (so Arius thought) a lesser being than God, who would be purely other and removed from us. However, the idea originated, Arius attracted a large following in his teaching. And it was mainly for this issue that Constantine convened a council in Nicaea in 325 to discuss the matter. Their Arius had the opportunity to defend his view, but the Council determined that his teaching was heresy. Of course, the judgment call of the Council did not at once put the issue to rest. The matter still was debated with compromise positions being developed and general confusion still remaining. For one thing, the Nicene Council did not discuss how the Holy Spirit fit into the arrangement. However, the creed coming from the Council (the initial Nicene Creed) clearly stated that Jesus was of the same substance as the Father.

Athanasius, at 27 years old, was only a bishop’s secretary, at the Nicene Council. But he took a vigorous role in defending the Nicene decision and Creed. Only three years after the Council at Nicaea, he was made Archbishop of Alexandria, the very city in which Arius taught.

The Cappadocian Fathers were a group of bishops from Cappadocia (located in the central part of today’s Turkey) who also wrote in defense of a Trinitarian view of God. Two brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, in collaboration with Gregory, Archbishop of Constantinople, were credited with standardizing aspects of the Trinitarian relationship. Although the ideas were not new, they further developed and normalized the ideas of one substance (ousia) in three persons (hypostasis). They also clarified a distinction between the immanent Trinity (eternal relationship of the Trinity) and the economic Trinity (interrelated functioning of the Trinity in relation to creation, especially in redemption). Their writing in the middle 300s helped ground orthodox views of the Trinity that had been confirmed at Nicaea. But in 381 another council was held, this time in Constantinople, that gave further support to the Trinitarian view. This council revised the Nicene Creed into the form with which we are familiar today. Speaking of belief in Jesus, the Creed states, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Augustine, who was only in his late 20s at the time of the Council of Constantinople, went on to clarify further the doctrine of the Trinity.

This was the main thrust of the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Athanasius defended it; the Cappadocian Fathers defined (or standardized) it; and Augustine described (or clarified) it. And this development into orthodoxy remained without much controversy or discussion for the next 1500 years until Karl Barth began to question the distinction between the immanent and economic Trinity.

The tendency in 20th century Trinitarian thought is to bring together as closely as possible the immanent and economic Trinity. After all, we can see in Scripture the actual functioning and description of the economic Trinity. But the concepts of the immanent Trinity, having much less Scriptural revelation, seem more theoretically and philosophically based than biblically based. Thus, Barth claimed, “Where the reality exists, there must also be the corresponding possibility.” In other words, if we can see the reality of functional interrelationship in the economic Trinity, it is certainly possible that that same functional interrelationship exists in the immanent Trinity. Karl Rahner, a Catholic theologian whose major writings stairstep only about a couple of decades after Barth’s, is known for his Rahner’s Rule: The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity.

The difficulty this creates is in how we should consider the Persons of the Trinity who are coequal in essence, power, and glory. Despite this equality, should we perceive of them as always being unequal in rank? Resolving this question is absolutely necessary for our understanding of Jesus’s discourse in the Gospel of John.