The greatest danger is not death but apostasy. So says Don Carson in his commentary on this passage. Jesus’ previous teaching has been to protect them from falling away -by abiding in Him and being filled with the Spirit. Later John provides a framework for falling away while maintaining the eternal security of the believer (1 John 2:19).
Next Jesus predicts persecution and even martyrdom for believers – indeed there will come a time when people will think killing Christians is worship. Saul of Tarsus fell into that category before encountering Jesus. But martyrdom was not just a first century thing. Most of us, as average church-going Christians are not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. The image of 21 Egyptian Christians in in bright orange jumpsuits kneeling on a lonely Mediterranean beach before being beheaded by ISIS fanatics is a horrific recent one. Christians in Pakistani are regularly burnt alive. Eastern European theologian Peter Kusmic once wrote “So much popular Western evangelical religiosity is so shallow and selfish. It promises so much and demands so little. It offers success, personal happiness, peace of mind, material prosperity, but it hardly speaks of repentance, sacrifice, self-denial, holy lifestyle and a willingness to die for Christ.” Ouch.
In the first paragraph of today’s reading Jesus teaches that opposition will come from the respectable v2. First Century rabbinic teaching certainly showed that. It’s such a shame that Christians over the centuries returned the animus.
Much needed encouragement comes from the next verses. Jesus is going, but the Spirit is coming. In this last section of teaching about the Spirit in John’s gospel, we see His evangelistic ministry.
Preaching v5-7 -Convicting the world with regard to sin, righteousness and judgement
The Greek word for convict elencho is variously translated as convict as in of a crime, expose and convince. For the world, the Spirit’s work is to expose, convince and convict.
- Of sin – because they don’t yet believe
- Of righteousness, because Jesus is and they are not
- Judgement – because the cross and resurrection not only makes a spectacle of Satan
The world has a multi-faceted blindness about those three things that the Spirit will convince/expose and convict!
The Spirit doesn’t just proclaim, he imparts and counsels. He is the Paraclete – the counsellor, helper and comforter.
Then the Spirit is the discipler. He will guide us into all truth. Jesus has already told us He is the truth (John 14:6) so the Spirit’s discipling work is to give us more of Jesus, who is the truth.
The rest of the passage addresses the issues of persecution and joy and peace in the midst of that.
Are we Kusmic’s caricature of Western Christianity or is there enough of the Spirit at work in and through us, that we sometimes face opposition?