"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.John 15:18(NASB)
Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel in fulfilment of biblical prophecy. Partway through His ministry however, the Lord Jesus started to give hints that God's plans and purposes for Israel were to be postponed for an undisclosed length of time. This "dispensation of the grace of God," as Paul called it, was to be a season during which the Lord would carry out His plans and purposes for the redemption of mankind, through a different group of people. He was to reach the world through the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
As the time for Christ's crucifixion drew ever closer, Jesus started to disclose certain things to His few, faithful followers that would shortly come to pass: "These things I have spoken to you that you might have joy. Greater love has no man than this - that a Man lays down His life for His friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. Abide in Me. Love, as I have loved you. Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature - for lo, I am with You always, even to the end of the age."
There were many other things that Christ longed to share with His disciples, but He knew they were not yet able to bear it. He spoke of the coming Holy Spirit Who would not only be with them, but would one day permanently dwell within their bodies. They came to understand that Christ was the suffering servant about whom Isaiah spoke, as well as the triumphant King Who would sit on the throne of David. They came to an understanding that He was the Son of God, the living Water, the Resurrection and the Life.
They realised He was the Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world, and the Lion of the kingly tribe of Judah. They would soon learn that He was the Rock of offence, the First-fruit of the dead. They were beginning to understand the mysteries of the kingdom - that He was the Way and the Truth... and that in Him was Eternal Life. They also realised that He was going away - and yet promised to be with them forever! They were confused and concerned, as Christ sought to comfort and instruct them.
As they partook of the Passover supper when Jesus washed their grimy feet, their understanding remained limited - but as time passed, things that had been hidden from ages and generations started to become clear to them. They heard that they would be guided into all truth by the indwelling Holy Spirit and would be used by God as Christ's mouthpiece - to do even greater works than He carried out. They would to go forth into the world to tell the good news of the gospel of grace - to Jew and Gentile alike, and that whoever believed in Him would not perish, but become children of God, be clothed in Christ's righteousness, and receive everlasting life - as a free gift of God's grace.
Love for one another was a very important part of Christ's command to his loyal, yet confused disciples, for He knew that they would be persecuted for righteousness' sake and hated by the world because they were His followers. Jesus knew they would be like sheep in the midst of wolves, but He prayed that God would keep them in the midst of the tribulations they were soon to face. They were to be in the world, but not part of the world - and they would be hated by all men.
"They hated Me without any cause," Jesus told them, "but if the world hates you - never forget that it hated Me before it ever hated you." The world would hate them because they were followers of Christ Who is the only Way to the Father. They would be sifted by the enemy because they had been rescued from the clutches of Satan - for the wages of their sin had been paid in full, by Christ and the curse that lay heavy on their heads, had been removed through His sacrificial work at Calvary.
All those that follow the Lord Jesus will go through tribulations and suffer persecution for their faith. All of us who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will be despised, rejected, persecuted, and killed because of Christ Who came to pay the price for the sin of the world and gave His life as the ransom price for whoever would believe on His name - but how few have ears that really listen.
Heavenly Father, thank You, that Your Word states plainly that the world hated Jesus. I understand that trials and tribulations are common to all men, but that those who follow You will inevitably suffer persecution for righteousness sake. Thank You that You have promised to keep me through the difficulties, dangers, persecution, and pain that all who live godly lives in Christ will suffer. I am so thankful that You intimately understand how I feel when the world hates me, because it hated You first. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus Who is the hope of my calling, and thank You that Your grace is sufficient for every situation I may have to face in this life. In Jesus' name I pray, AMEN.