“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away” (John 16:1).
What were “these things” that Jesus spoke of?
Jesus had just explained in chapter 15 that if anyone follows him, they will be hated and persecuted by the world (15:18-25). He follows that solemn news with an encouraging announcement that the “Helper” (the Holy Spirit) will be coming soon. Jesus continued his encouragement as he warns them of coming difficulties. Why is that encouraging? Because they know in advance: “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (16:40).
What does “falling away” mean?
Here, the Greek word behind “falling away” means, “to offend so as to fall away” and carries the idea of a surprise or something unexpected. The noun form of the word was a trap laid for an enemy that when triggered it would capture the victim suddenly.
Earlier (6:52-59), after talked about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” Jesus used this same word (fall away) when he said, “Does this offend you?” (John 6:61). Turns out that that did offend some of his disciples - “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). That’s exactly what Jesus wanted to prevent here, encouraging his disciples’ faithfulness by warning them of the approaching storm of hatred and persecution.
Jesus does not want his disciples to be surprised by the hostility of others with the effect that they stop following him. He wants them to expect opposition and persecution. Jesus was not popular with the religious leaders of his day. Ironic isn’t it? He was God in the flesh, yet those charged with spiritual leadership and insight rejected him and persecuted those that followed him.
The disciples expected a kingdom of power and likely had an accelerated timeline of expectations – they likely thought that immediately after Jesus death and resurrection that he would establish the messianic kingdom. Jesus had to communicate to them two important realities: 1) his kingdom was not a kingdom of political power, and 2) it was not going to appear as soon as they expected.
His point: Hard times are coming. I’m telling you in advance, so you are not surprised, so you don’t stop following me, like those in chapter 6.
Kingdom over Comfort.
The reality of opposition and persecution confuses many Christians. There are many today that fixate on our comfort at the expense of God’s kingdom. Some even preach comfort. And wealth. And health. And prosperity. Focusing on our comfort blinds us to kingdom issues.
Here’s the bottom line: to live like Jesus is to be treated like Jesus. Following Jesus is not a comfortable proposition. But it’s a good proposition!
Enjoy Walking with the Savior Today, John