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In the previous section, we established the fact that from the stand point of Jesus, the number twelve for his apostles was not a coincidence. He is the Good Shepherd of Israel who established and delegated his authority to the Twelve to rule Israel in his place when he would be absent. They are the new heads of the Israelite tribes and are reminiscent of the Twelve patriarchs.
When we recall the story of the twelve fathers/heads of Israel, we immediately remember that love towards one another was not a characteristic of their relationships. In fact, the story of their internal family relationship was one of attempted group murder and the sale into slavery of their younger brother Joseph. Jesus, as he establishes his new leadership over Israel recalls this story of deep family dysfunction, saying that these new heads must be the opposite of the original tribal heads. The new leaders must love one another.
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
For several years, the disciples of Rabbi Jesus (as they referred to him) were his servants. This may sound strange to modern ears, but in ancient times, especially in the Jewish setting, if someone was a student of a religious leader, he was also his servant. The time for Jesus’ departure has come. He began the final preparation of his disciples for the very challenging task of being his representatives during a foundational period that would be incredibly unstable. The time had come for them to be included in his council as friends and not only as students. He was approaching his death and through it preparing to show them that they must follow his example and commit to what one day would become one of the core Jewish value concepts – Ahavat Yesrael (Love of Israel).
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
You may recall that throughout this study we are identifying places where John does not use the word cosmos, usually translated as world, in a simple way. At times, his use seems to challenge some of our already well-established interpretive options. We saw this clearly in our discussion of John 7 when the reference referred to the world as Judea and Jerusalem!
We have repeatedly seen that Jesus was enthusiastically received in Galilee, but was persecuted in Judea. This is very different from texts in the synoptics where we see the opposite. His home is Galilee, not Judea (as in John) and it is in Galilee that he receives most of his opposition. In John it is clear that all of Jesus’ persecution comes from the Jerusalemite religious establishment and their affiliates – hoi Ioudaioi. They hate him and they make plans to destroy him at all costs, realizing the threat he posed to their place of leadership in Israel.
21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
The summarizing phrase “they hated me without a cause” for the persecution and suffering of Jesus is a direct reference to several of the psalms of lament.
In Ps.35:1-8 we read: “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! … Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!” Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! … Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them! For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.” While in Ps.69:1-4: “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause…”
This is the case throughout John where the hoi Ioudaioi, when they feared losing power, launched a full attack against Jesus. But for their fear, they had no real cause to hate him.