John 15:16-27 — ‘They hated me without a cause’ — LeGrand Baker

Jesus’s message to his apostles was both a warning and a promise. The warning was:

20 They hated me without a cause. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20).

The promise would come soon, but for now, Jesus’s explanation shows that this hatred and its consequences were also part of the Law which he must fulfill.

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause (John 15:25).

The question is why is that phrase so important and how was it to be fulfilled? In its context, this is what the Savior said to his apostles.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.
22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.
23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.
26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.
(John 15:16-27)

The answer to our question is found in the ancient Israelite temple drama. The drama and rites performed at Solomon’s Temple were a multi-layered story that contained many messages. The first and most important was a symbolic eternal biography of their Messiah, from his role as Jehovah, through his earthly experience and Atonement, until the 8th day of the drama when he presided at their final salvation.

My premise is that Jesus and his apostles knew the ancient temple drama, including how and where each of the Psalms were used in the drama. Therefore, a reference to a psalm was also a reference to that part of the drama where the psalm was sung. For example if we were in a conversation and someone asked in jest, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” That would be enough to take our minds to the play, the act, and the romantic balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. Just that short quote might cause laughter and the conversation would proceed with everyone knowing the before and after of the short quote as though they had just walked out of the theater.

Similarly, the conversation between Jesus and his apostles makes much more sense if we understand the Psalms as the backdrop to what they say to each other. The part of their discussion we are now reading in John 15 fits that formula. My understanding of how the Psalms were used in their temple drama is explained in the book Stephen Ricks and I wrote called Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. {1} “Part One” of the book is a reconstruction of much of the ancient temple drama using the Psalms as the liturgy. “Part Two” shows that the sermons in the Book of Mormon were based on the Nephite temple experience. This present discussion of the Gospel of John is simply an extension of that premise showing that many of Jesus’s conversations with his friends were also based on their mutual knowledge of the psalms and the ancient temple drama.

Most of the drama was performed outside, something like our Hill Cumorah Pageant. The king was the chief actor. In the course of the drama he played the part of himself in the Council in Heaven, of Adam in the Garden of Eden, and of himself again in this world. However, this was a participatory drama where the same things that happened on the stage to the king symbolically also happened to each of the men in the congregation.

In John 15, during the conversation we are discussing, Jesus is rehearsing part of the king’s role and reminding the apostles that what happens to the king on the stage will happen to him and eventually also to each them. Jesus said,

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

There are two psalms that contain such prophecies. Both are spoken by the king during the stage production of the temple drama. The first is a lament and a plea for help, but it is difficult to know where it fit in the drama. The drama is presented as a kind of autobiography of the king (and also of each person in the congregation). Its sequence ranges from the Council in Heaven, to the war in heaven, through this world’s experience, and to the final judgment. However, the Psalms are no longer in their correct order, so one can no longer read them consecutively to get the story. There are so many events in the play where the king would need help that we cannot tell in which scene Psalm 109 belongs.

1 Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
2 For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
3 They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
4 For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.
5 And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
7 When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin (Psalms 109:1-7).

The drama follows the same pattern as the “cosmic myth” or “hero cycle.” It is the same basic story as is in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology where the hero’s story follows the same set pattern. He has to leave home, is given a difficult task and some of the tools to perform it. He meets an obstacle that makes his success impossible. The gods give him more tools so he can succeed and returns home triumphantly. In the middle of that story his task becomes impossible without the help of the gods. The pattern of the story—but not its details—rings true because it is our own eternal biography, the plan of salvation, the outline version of the Savior’s mission, and the story told in the ancient Israelite temple drama.

Psalm 119 portrays one of the most dramatic events in the drama. It is the pinnacle of the story where the king is killed and therefore cannot possibly succeed without the intercession of Jehovah. Of course, the story does not end there. The king is rescued from death and hell by the power of Jehovah’s Atonement. Together, they return triumphantly to the Jerusalem. They are joined by the people and in a procession (of which the Savior’s “triumphal entry” reminiscent) they dance around the city, they enter the city gates and move to the temple area, then to the Temple itself. (This is where they sang Psalm 24) Within the Temple the king (again representing every man in the congregation) is adopted as Jehovah’s son and heir. He is coronated as king and goes beyond the great Temple veil into the Holy of Holies, sits on God’s throne and reigns on earth as God’s legitimate son. Unlike in Egypt, the Israelite king is not divine, but he does represent the Divine.

That was the conclusion of the drama, but our concern is what happened to the king at the time of his symbolic death and before his triumphal return.

Psalm 119 is a scene that also takes place in the Temple. But this scene is not a triumph. It is when Israel’s enemies have conquered the city and have met the king in hand to hand combat within the Temple itself. The king tells us his feelings and describes parts of the combat as he confronts his enemy until the very moment he is overcome and killed.

The following descriptions of the battle in the Temple are excerpts from our Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, {2}

In the drama, the challenge began with a symbolic attack by the Canaanites against everything Jehovah loved. Jerusalem was destroyed, its Temple was burned, the people were massacred, and the king himself was killed in their defense. The battle is vividly described in the 74th Psalm, where we hear a fervent prayer by the people imploring God’s assistance:

The final scene of the battle was represented by an enactment of the 119th Psalm. It showed a titanic struggle between the symbolic forces of evil and the young hero king.

Psalm 119 is the longest, and certainly one of the most moving of all the psalms. It is a soliloquy that rivals the soliloquies of Hamlet in its intensity and beauty—suggesting that the Israelite temple drama was performed with all the theatrical power and emotional pathos of a Shakespearian tragedy. In our Bible, the psalm is difficult to read as a single soliloquy because its translators broke it into sections and divided it according to the letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

That the young speaker was king and commander in this battle, there can be no question. The way he identified his enemies and his own social status makes that quite clear:

23 Princes also did sit and speak against me:
but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.

161 Princes have persecuted me without a cause:
but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.

46 I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings,
and will not be ashamed (Psalm 119:23, 161, 46).

The young king reminded God that while he was completely devoted to the Law, he also had access to the greater sources of knowledge—for he had understood the commandments “of old,” meaning they were known and sustained by him when he was a member of the Council in Heaven:

72 The law of thy mouth is better unto me
than thousands of gold and silver.

99 I have more understanding than all my teachers:
for thy testimonies are my meditation.

100 I understand more than the ancients,
because I keep thy precepts.

152 Concerning thy testimonies,
I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever (Psalm 119:72, 99-100, 152).

The greatest portion of the psalm is a series of reminders to God—and no doubt to himself as he engaged in this struggle—of his piety and of his devotion to God. One example is toward the end of the psalm, when the young king had become surrounded by his enemies, but he did not give in. Rather, he assured himself that they were still his inferiors because they did not keep the Law:

150 They draw nigh that follow after mischief:
they are far from thy law (Psalm 119:150).

Then it was all over. The king’s body was at the gates of death—but his spirit was still alive, and his faith in Jehovah was not weakened. In the last stanzas of this scene, he prays that his soul will live on—so that, even in death, he may continue to praise the Lord:

173 Let thine hand help me;
for I have chosen thy precepts.
174 I have longed for thy salvation,
O Lord; and thy law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee;
and let thy judgments help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments (Psalm 119:173-76).

Those last words of the psalm strike the final cord of the young king’s time on the earth and express the hope that will become the ultimate triumph of the entire festival drama: In his last appeal to Jehovah, as his soul approaches the darkness of death and hell, the king pleads: “seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” That was his testimony of who Jehovah is and of his knowledge of Jehovah’s ultimate authority, and of his anticipation of the saving power of the Atonement. As he entered death, he knew that only Jehovah could save him.

——————-
The timing in Jesus’s life when he had this conversation with his apostles was analogous to the time of that final battle within the Temple where the king was overcome and killed by an enemy who only appeared to have won. If the apostles knew the sequence in the drama they should also have understood what was about to happen. Apparently, what they could not understand was that this King could actually be defeated and killed. Nevertheless, that is what the Savior was trying to tell them.

With the ceremonial and symbolic destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the death of the king and his people as the probable background to this conversation, Jesus now moves from the symbolic to the reality.

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

That was the phrase he is citing near the end of the 119th Psalm:

161 Princes have persecuted me without a cause (Psalm 119:161)

Then Jesus makes a remarkable observation

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke [excuse] for their sin.
23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

Their hatred was focused on the Savior. That is serious—it is going-to-hell serious! There seems to be an eternal balance in the conditions upon which we come to this world—to discover for ourselves whether we will do good or do evil. This world’s environment enables us to make that discovery. Sometime before, Jesus had this exchange with the Pharisees.

40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth (John 9:40-41).

Not only are we each given sufficient opportunity to go to heaven, but we are also given sufficient opportunity to qualify to go some other place.

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

Jesus’s enemies knew a cause but it was within themselves. It was the livid discomfort of being exposed that a bad person feels by being in the presence of a righteous person. When that happens it leaves the evil one with three options: to retire, repent, or retaliate. There is a long list of good people who have been persecuted, some killed, because repentance seemed the least desirable of the options.

As the Savior told the apostles what would happen to himself and to each of them, he also told them of the sure antidote for the hatred they would encounter.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another (John 15:16-17).

Jesus’s message was first a warning, now it is a promise.

25 …They hated me without a cause.
26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning (John 15:25-27).

“From the beginning” in an intriguing phrase. It might be read “from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry,” or it might be read “from the very beginning at the Council in Heaven.”
Some people believe that the 12 following the Savior in Lehi’s vision were his Jerusalem apostles (1 Nephi 1:10). If that is correct, it would give a powerful meaning to his words, “because ye have been with me from the beginning.”

————–
FOOTNOTES

{1} LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen D. Ricks.. Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, first edition, 2009, second (paperback) edition, 2011.

{2}Baker and Ricks, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “Act 2, Scene 6: The Ritual Combat,” first edition, 397-415; second (paperback) edition. 286-300.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

This entry was posted in John. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply