15:20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.

21 But they will do all these things 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 sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also.

Eight times in verses 8-22 Jesus makes reference to “they”. “They” will “persecute” the disciples as “they” have persecuted Jesus. “They” are ones to whom Jesus has spoken and therefore should have known better than to seek his destruction.

Who is this “they” Jesus refers to?

Given that the words are being spoken shortly before Jesus will be arrested, tried and crucified, it seems he had in mind those who would orchestrate his arrest and those who would carry out his execution.

But, it is not the same “they” who will persecute Jesus’ followers. Immediately after the removal of the charismatic preacher from Nazareth, the followers of Jesus were reduced to an irrelevant little sect of Judaism about whom no one was particularly bothered.

Except for a few small pockets of opposition from Jewish religious officials, the horrific persecution of Christians that we associate with the early church did not begin until thirty years after Jesus’ death and was centred in Rome far from the Jerusalem where Jesus suffered. The general persecution of Jesus’ followers began in 64 CE when Emperor Nero used the Christians in Rome as scapegoats to divert suspicion from himself as the cause of the blaze.

So who is this “they” who the world hates and will persecute Christians?

“They” are the ones who live in that realm Jesus identifies as the “world”. The “world” is any system, or paradigm, any action that is constructed and orchestrated in opposition to the qualities of goodness and light that Jesus embodied. There are those who at times “hate” the light. The people who oppose the goodness and beauty that was Jesus and that continued to be manifest through his disciples by virtue of his in-dwelling Spirit are those who will always prefer the darkness to the light. They will react violently against the truth Jesus embodied and seek to eliminate those who bear that truth.

How might I at times live in opposition to the truth and light?

How do I respond when I encounter opposition to the light of Jesus in my life?