If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
I have always read this verse as though Jesus was one-upping His disciples to settle their concerns and any we may have today. Whether or not its verbal, we do this often. It’s a form of rationalization. If you are sad you can’t afford that expensive pair of new shoes, just remember there are people in this world who can’t even afford their next meal. If your air conditioning unit croaks in the middle of this brutally hot summer, keep in mind that some people don’t even have a home to shelter themselves from the elements. This is the religious response, right? Remember that there is someone worse off than you and it will make you feel better about your circumstances.
Jesus certainly had the right to play that card. No one has suffered the way He suffered. No one has resisted sin to the point of shedding blood like He did (Heb. 12:4). No one has endured, persevered, or been persecuted the way Jesus was. Jesus was not ignorant about His future. He knew what was coming and He knew what was in store for those who followed Him. As He counseled His disciples here in John before His upcoming death, this particular verse could be interpreted as though Christ is flexing His pity muscles and telling His followers to get it together when suffering comes.
But He isn’t. For some reason, as I was reading through Hebrews the other day the Lord saw it fitting to correct me on this.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Great…here we go again, right? I am having a hard time, feeling sorry for myself and my situation when Jesus comes along and says, “Wait, you think that’s bad? Buck up son. I’ve had it much worse than you and I was perfect. Haven’t you heard? I was tempted in every way, but never sinned.” Once again, this is the religious response. Someone somewhere has it worse than me so my feelings are invalidated by comparison and I need to try harder. I need to get it together. But the writer of Hebrews goes on to apply this much differently:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This is not a religious response. This is the Gospel response. The writer begins this exhortation on the foundation of the previous claim – that Christ was tempted in every way and did not sin. This fact makes Christ sympathetic to all that we feel. No one can look at Jesus like a whiny teenager and yell at Him as though He was a parent, “You don’t know what this feels like!” Actually, He does. He has been there. In fact, He has been in worse situations than you will ever be, but this is not a truth that is meant to invalidate your circumstances. Rather, it is meant to get your eyes off of them.
Because it is true that Christ suffered far more than we have and was hated by the world before we were, He can sympathize with our struggles. He invites us to approach His throne with confidence. Out of His love, He stoops to pick us up. He does not remind us that the world hated Him first in order to push us away and encourage a reliance on individual initiative. He speaks this way to draw us more fully to Himself. God humbled Himself and became like us so that He could be relatable to us.
So when the world hates you, know that it hated Christ first and because that is true you have a Savior who knows your need, has the ability to attend to you, and urges you to ask for His healing hands with confidence. The Lord of the universe wants to be a part of our struggle. He is a great King, this Jesus.