John 16:1-4 – A Warning to Not Fall Away

The reason for Jesus giving this warning is so that the disciples will not “fall away” when the persecution begins. The verb translated “fall away” in the ESV is σκανδαλίζω. The word can mean brought to a downfall, or “cause to sin.” For example, for a person on a diet, bringing a platter of their favorite dessert is likely going to cause them to sin by breaking their diet and eating the dessert. The food “trips them up” and the fall off the wagon, so to speak.

The word can also have the sense of being offended by someone or something, or to be shocked or angered by something. This may lead to sin as well, so it is sometimes difficult to decide how the word ought to be translated. But in either case, Jesus wants his disciples what they will have to face in the very near future, so that they are not shocked to the point of sin. If they were under the impression that the new few months would lead to a great deal of health and wealth for them personally, they are going to be in for a great shock!

Jesus once again predicts that the disciples will be subjected to persecution. It is clear in these verses that the Jews will be the source of this trouble.

The disciples will be put out of the synagogue. To be thrown out of a synagogue is an indication that the members of the synagogue consider you to be no longer permitted to worship God or study the scripture in that place. This may be the result of some sin, but also for a defection from the truth. We should resist the inclination to read this as “excommunication” in a medieval sense, but in a small Jewish community to be expelled from the synagogue was to be expelled from polite society!

The disciples will be killed. While execution for non-belief is not common in the Jewish world, there are some examples in the book of Acts, certainly Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12) are examples of this very things

The ones who are doing the persecution think that they are serving God. This is possibly a result of the type of zeal demonstrated by Phineas in Numbers, when he “burned with zeal” and attacked a man who was sinning with a Moabite prostitute at the tabernacle. So too did Elijah “burn with zeal” when he killed the priests of Baal in 1 Kings, or Judas Maccabees when he attached the Greeks after the desecration of the Temple.

Paul’s own persecution of Jewish believers in Jesus as messiah and savior is an illustration of this very persecution. Certainly he worked to silence those who claimed that Jesus had been the Messiah, that he had been raised from the dead and that he was coming back to judge. This is not a matter of a slight difference of opinion, for pre-Christian Paul this was an attack on the heart of Judaism and a completely false accusation against the high priest and the Sanhedrin. For Paul, his actions were exactly the right course to take in the service of God.

The sad truth is that this passage has been badly misunderstood and used as a justification for all kinds of attacks on the Jewish people for centuries at the hand of “good Christian people.” Fredrick Bruner has a stunning commentary on the abuse of Jews in World War II at the hands of people who were a part of the confessional church. It is a sad irony that while many thought they were killing Jews as part of their Christian duty, they were as guilty as those who persecuted the apostles in Acts.

This passage (nor any other in the Bible) advocates any sort of persecution of Jews (or anyone else) because they are “unbelievers.” We can disagree, slightly or completely, with another religion, but as Christians it is not our duty to respond with hate or violent repression.

15 thoughts on “John 16:1-4 – A Warning to Not Fall Away

    • Obviously it was added. You are right that it seems to have strayed from the point of the text to a rather tangential application. I claim preacher’s license at that point .

      But I do have a small list in mind of people who ought to be warned about such attacks. There was a brief Q&A after this service, in which I suggested (for example) that rather violent opposition to Mormonism from some evangelicals is not likely to win anyone to the faith.

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  1. Your discussion of “cause to sin” reminds me of the Catholic concept of “near occasion of sin”, from the end of the Act of Contrition: “I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more, and avoid the near occasion of sin.” (In other words, to stay away from “friends” bearing desserts!)

    You and your readers might be interested in my recent post Refusing to be Scandalized, where I look at the mimetic understanding of skandalon with an emphasis on being offended/shocked/angered by something and “burning with zeal”, explained in terms of certain familiar patterns of interaction on the internet.

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  2. It is sort of ironic that the disciples will be put out of the synagogue due to their belief in Jesus because Jesus basically instructs them to help others come to believe in him. Also Jesus tells the disciples they will be killed because they believe in him. Of course, the persecutors are the ones who think they are doing good by God just like Paul thought he was doing good by persecuting Christians. Humans tend to do crazy things when they strongly believe in something. Hitler strongly believed that Jews were the reason Germany lost World War I and he made so many convincing arguments that he gained the support of many people. Something to remember is that what one person believes, another person might not believe the same thing. Another thing to remember is that even if we do not believe in something another person believes, it is not our job to judge or persecute. Too often, as humans, we are quick to pass judgement before we think about what God really wants.

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  3. So many people, when they face suffering of various kinds, automatically assume that God has abandoned them. The general assumption, therefore, is that God and suffering are opposed and contradict each other–that wherever the presence of God is, suffering must be absent. But God clearly states in Scripture that no matter who you are, you will experience some kind of trauma in your life. In fact, for Christians, suffering is actually more prevalent, although it is used to glorify God and strengthen the believer. Jesus, because He is aware of all of the nuances of the human heart, could see that His disciples, without a warning, would certainly struggle in their faith when tested with trials. In order to help with this, Christ issues a state of emergency: When He ascends and the Holy Spirit comes, suffering will ensue–and the people doing it will think they are justified. Having been warned of this, the hope is that the disciples will be better prepared to face tribulation.

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    • I agree with your first statement of how people are quick to think that God has abandoned them when trouble arises. Even if you still think that God is with you through the trouble, thoughts can creep in making you question why He is letting it happen to you, and the reality is that we need to remember that God knows what He is doing, this is not His first rodeo. God knows what areas of our life need to be built up stronger, and it is smart that he would put us into situations to work on these areas. Our minds cannot always wrap around the idea of how God truly works with each one of us as His focus and how He wants us to be sinless. Jesus knew that the disciples would face trails that would be much harder to overcome if they were a surprise. This is especially true as the persecution would come from the Jews, who they would certainly not expect this from. I imagine a close friend of mine who is a believer persecuting me out of nowhere and how this would shock me. This is what Jesus was protecting the disciples from, He was not going to stop the Jews, but He knew that He could still help them by giving them a heads-up.

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  4. Jesus sends us this warning, mostly to his disciples, about not falling away and not being tempted by sin. It is hard in a world full of sin and distractions to stay committed and to not choose the east path. We see less and less teenagers on fire for the Gospel and even adults who proclaim their faith. Kostenberger puts it lightly saying, “in our highly pluralistic, postmodern culture, it will be increasingly unpopular to proclaim the biblical message that there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved but Jesus,” (Kostenberger, 153). It is not quite a shock to hear this because even high schools, kids are being persecuted for being labeled as a Christian or different, so we tend to hide it and not speak out. This is a huge problem. Why? Because God calls us to be the salt and light of the earth. Matthew says that, “you are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden,” (Matthew 5:13-14, NIV). This is where we are told to be different and to be the salt of the earth. If we are not choosing to be salt or light, then we are not proclaiming the truth to the world and what Kostenberger says about us is true. So as a follower of Christ, we need to be lights of the world and not fall to sin. We need to not fall away and to be strong as salt of the earth

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  5. It is hard to imagine what it would be like if the person you had been following closely for three years turned to you and said, “Hey, the people that hate me are going to hate you. The will kick you out and try to kill some of you.” The disciples thought that Jesus would be this person to help them restore the temple, and now he said that they would be persecuted by the people they wanted to essentially get rid of to restore the temple. It must have really shocked them.
    You can understand why Jesus would want to tell them what would happen beforehand. Those are some pretty serious things that are going to happen to them, and, as Kostenberger says, “the history of the early church clearly proves the accuracy of Jesus’ predictions” (Kostenberger, 152). If anyone could warn someone they love about all of the bad things that are going to happen to them, wouldn’t they jump at that chance so they could avoid it? But Jesus does it so that they wouldn’t avoid it, but rather that they would have the strength to endure it and to pray that God would protect them.

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  6. When Jesus tells the disciples the hard times they are going to face, it helps them prepare for it so that sin does not control their lives. This can be compared to anything we have to prepare for in our lives, whether that be a job interview or a test. We are often given study guides to help give us an idea of what will be on the test so that we are not shocked and confused when given the test. If Jesus had not told the what would happen to them, the shock could have made the path of sin much wider. It is important to remember that we are given a similar message when Jesus tells us that we are going to face troubles in the world (John 16:33), but He also tells us to remember that He has “overcome the world”. This is our warning that we need to take seriously, as we were given for the same reason as the disciples were by Jesus. We cannot use the excuse that we didn’t know sin was going to be hard to resist, or that becoming a Christian wasn’t going to make life “free and easy”, as Jesus was specific that this would not be the case. Just like how the Jews were the ones who were persecuting the disciples, there are going to be people in our life who will persecute us that we would not expect, and this can be the most dangerous to our faith.

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  7. I don’t want to get into a salvation debate (I’m pretty sure I’m setting myself up for one by prefacing my comment with that statement) but, regardless: it absolutely breaks my heart to see “Christians” acting out in violence and hate towards others when that behavior is clearly condemned in the Bible; 1 John 4:19 tells us: “We love because he first loved us,” and I wonder if people who act out in hatred have truely encountered the unconditional love of Christ. The love of Christ is transformative: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20), so I wonder what kind of encounters the Christians seeking out and intentionally hurting others have had with God?

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  8. its important to note that this passage is one that shows Jesus did not intend for his disciples to misunderstand what his goal was. he warns them of what is coming and even who it will come from. much persecution came from the Jews and while that was wrong it was expected it was predicted. however this should not be a cause for the mistreatment of Jewish indivuals as they are still God’s people. many Christians have mistreated Jews for the persecution they committed and for killing Jesus however the Jews are not to blame but rather the whole world if sin did not exist then Christ would not have needed to die so to blame the Jews for this event Is not fair as it does not allow for the blame of sin to be properly placed on all people.

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  9. This is significant because nowadays Christians are always targeted because of the judgment that we give on the world. To me this isn’t an issue of salvation, to me it’s an issue of education. Christianity is meant to be full of joy and happiness, yet instead we find anger, spitefulness and judgement. We seem to think that it is our place to judge, when we all know that this is indeed a wrong way of thinking. People have such a poor view of Christians and despite our goal and purpose on this earth it is constantly seen as a disgusting trait a person can withhold. Christians that lack the knowledge and understanding that judging others is not something God intended for us to do here on earth, seem to be the ones lacking the most with this. If one would just understand that if we stopped judging other people, we wouldn’t have so many issues with them.

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  10. Isn’t it ironic that those who persecuted Stephen and James (Acts 7,12) thought they were being servants of the Lord when in reality they were acting completely outside of what God wanted of them? It makes me wonder if this is something that I do in my walk with Christ. I don’t have to think too long before I remember my sinful nature and continuously act outside of what God wants from me. I think it is dangerous, though, to act outside of the will of God when we think we are being obedient. This strips away some of our humility and ability to be corrected. We need to be sure that we are continuously asking God to speak into different areas of our lives so that we might be guided in the Truth. It is only then that we will be able to have the assurance that we are acting in His will.

    I read about the way that some of the characters in the Old Testament acted in zeal and killed people. For example, when Elijah kills the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40), it makes me wonder if he is acting in God’s will. If He is, I can’t help but think that is out of character for God. God does not normally ask us to disobey Him and He is never changing. So, why would God tell us not to murder in the Ten Commandments, but then ask Elijah to kill those prophets, if He did in fact ask Him to do that?

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  11. As we know as Christians and taught our whole life that when someone does or says something to offend us, we are to turn the other cheek instead of firing something right back to them. We are to be witnesses of Christ through every action that we do. But lately it seems like the church and its people have a bad rep in today’s land as we judge others for the sins that they have committed, and we seem like we are better than those who don’t attend church. How is this possible if we were taught our whole lives how to act and love in the way Christ loved? Well we are sinful people and at times I think that people think if they call others out it will then help them change their ways and turn to Christ but that is wrong, and it doesn’t help as Christians come off of judge mental. We are to love on others in the way Christ loved us and that is the only way that people will understand what true Christianity looks like. We need a lot less talk about this issue and a lot more of doing and improving on the way Christians are looked upon on this earth.

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  12. As Christians, we should always be seeking God every single day regardless of what is going on around us. We cannot fall away when life gets tough or we are persecuted for our faith. The early disciples were about to go through some extreme stuff where many of them would be killed for their faith. Jesus in this chapter of John did not want his disciples to fall away when they were persecuted or even killed for their faith. He wanted to encourage them that even though it was going to get tough that he would be with them and that he wanted them to stay the course and trust him. We cannot be lukewarm Christians and expect to enter the kingdom of heaven. We must be on fire for God and not fall away from the faith regardless of what we are going through or facing. This means that we need to emulate Christ. We need to bless those who curse us and do good to those who despitefully use you as Romans 12 says. We must be devoted to Christ in every circumstance no matter what life holds for us we must trust that God is in control and has a plan for our lives.

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