This passage comes as something of a blast of cold air after the warmth of what’s come before. Jesus has been speaking in the first half of the chapter about our relationship to Him, the True Vine, now he addresses our relationship to the world. Having talked much about love, the talk now is of hate. But we are not left alone to face the hostility of the world, because Jesus has sent the Spirit, who is at work both in the world and in us.
Hate is a strong word, though of course it is an attitude that can be clothed with politeness or with violence. The world will hate us because of Jesus – not that every non-Christian hates every Christian, obviously, and some bear the brunt more than others, but this is the pattern we should expect. In being part of the Vine, we don’t belong to the world any longer (v.19). The world loves conformity to its own way, the way of sin and rebellion, and hates anyone who is different. They hated Jesus and his teaching (v.20), so we shouldn’t expect them to be any more receptive to our witness.
The reason the world hates Jesus is that He exposes their sin, their hatred of the Father. Few people would say they hate God, but their deep-seated hatred and hostility towards the Father is brought to the surface and exposed by Jesus, as his words (verse 22) and works (verse 24), reveals the Father (remember 14:9-11). Our response to Jesus betrays our true attitude towards God. It’s not that people weren’t sinners at heart before, but now, confronted by Jesus, their sin is made plain and their guilt established.
Don’t be fazed by this, says Jesus, it is what the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied would be the case (v.25, quoting from the Psalms, speaking of David, but therefore also speaking prophetically of great David’s greater Son), and it is what Jesus is taking pains to warn his disciples about here (16:1,4).Notice too that the fiercest persecution is likely to come not from the irreligious, but from those who claim to be serving God – the religious establishment (16:3,4).
The Spirit’s great work is to testify about Christ (15:26, 16:14). He does this both to the world and to the disciples. As well as helping us grasp the truth about Christ, he also enables us to grasp the truth about ourselves. He will “prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:8). Sin is primarily a rejection of God, an attitude exposed in people’s attitude to Jesus (cf. 15:23,24). “Righteousness” might refer to Christ’s righteousness, for Jesus’ exaltation will be his vindication, or the sham righteousness of the world. Jesus in his ministry had exposed people’s moral bankruptcy, and once he has gone the Spirit will continue that work. And the Spirit will awaken people to their accountability and the fact of coming judgment. The cross proclaims the certainty of judgment – Satan now stands condemned – and so we can be sure that all who side with him against God will be judged too.
He will also guide the disciples “into all truth” (v.13), that is the truth revealed in Jesus – the one who is “the Truth” (14:6). And when Jesus says “he will tell you what is yet to come”, the meaning is that the Spirit will teach them about the death, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ – those things which had not yet happened and which they had not yet fully understood. For the focus of the Spirit’s work is to teach the truth about Jesus, to glorify Jesus (v.14) by helping us to see, admire, honour and trust Jesus more. Helping us to understand that in Jesus the Father is fully revealed to us (v.15; cf 14:9). In the first place, like the similar promise in 14:26, this is a promise given particularly to the apostles: they are the ones the Spirit will lead into all truth, which means we can trust the apostolic testimony. But of course the Spirit is our teacher too, helping us to know Christ and understand the significance of his work, and he now teaches us through the Word he inspired the apostles to write.