What did Jesus mean in John 17, verses 14 and 16, when He spoke to the Father, saying that His disciples "'…are not of the world, just as I am not of the world'"?


This statement by Jesus Christ highlights a misunderstood truth that very few have comprehended, about the purpose and message of Jesus Christ, as well as the conduct of His followers–those who would claim to be Christians.

In an earlier account, Jesus pointedly contrasted His origin to that of the Jews who heard His preaching (Compare John 8:21-30). What He addressed were their actions, their lifestyle–their very way of living. He plainly said that they were “‘…OF this world'” (John 8:23); while, on the other hand, He emphatically stated that He was “‘…NOT OF this world'” (Same verse).

In verse 44 of this chapter, Jesus powerfully indicts those rejecting Him and His message: “‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.'”

Then, Jesus adds: “‘He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God'” (John 8:47).

Two ways of living are presented in these quotations, and they are polar opposites! God’s words are contrasted to the desires of Satan. Furthermore, Satan is revealed to be a liar and “the father of it.” Those who listened to Jesus but rejected His teaching are described as “of” the devil. Their actions were representative of the wishes of Satan.

It is important to understand that this present world–this age and civilization filled with violence, lies, hatred and every evil (Compare Galatians 1:4)–is ruled over by Satan the devil (Compare John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)! He is described as “…the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). After a lengthy meeting explaining to His disciples things they should know and do, following His death and resurrection, Jesus also explained how He had dealt with the society that had rejected Him: “‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world'” (John 16:33).

The reason His disciples would suffer persecution and difficult times is because they would not be living any longer according to the ways of the world–that is, they would not be “of” this world ruled over by Satan and his demonic forces.

Jesus reminded His disciples: “‘”…A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also'” (John 15:20).

The disciples very quickly experienced exactly what Jesus had warned. Following the remarkable events on the Feast of Pentecost when God poured out the gift of His Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus, the religious leaders immediately rejected what the apostles were preaching: “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard'” (Acts 4:18-20).

Following this warning, the apostles were again confronted by the religious leadership:

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’ But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men'” (Acts 5:27-29). This time, they were beaten for what they said and what they did (Compare Acts 5:40).

These disciples were not “of” this world. They were not part of the government of Rome that ruled in the land of Judea. They were distinctly separate in doctrine and understanding from anyone else on the earth–all of whom were under Satan’s influence. Why? Because they were following the example of Jesus Christ! They were living their lives as Christians!

In his later life, Peter continued to teach the approach of Jesus Christ:

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Peter died because he was not “of” the world–the age and generation in which he lived. Jesus revealed to Peter even the manner of his death (Compare John 21:18-19). Another apostle of Jesus Christ, James, the brother of John, was killed by the political leader over the area of Judea, Herod the king (Compare Acts 12:1-4).

Paul, who had at one time persecuted Christians, later on was converted (Compare Acts 9). However, his conversion took him out of the social and religious relationships in which he had been living. Now he became an object of murderous plots, persecutions and constant trials–he no longer lived his life according to the way of the world (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:22-33).

For anyone called of God, the message is to come out of the world (Compare Revelation 18:4; 2 Corinthians 6:17). The special relationship of Christians is one that separates them from the world. Even in the matter of problems within the Church of God, Paul points to the higher standard of conduct for followers of Christ:

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person'” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

Christians are to continue to live in the world–just as Jesus Christ did! Yet, they must separate themselves from the ways of this world–again, just as our Savior did!

Living in the world brings on the difficulty Jesus warned us about, and that is because we are to live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and as representatives of Jesus Christ (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:20). Christianity is a “way” of life that stands in stark opposition to the pattern of living adopted by mankind through the influence of the devil. It is even called repeatedly the “Way” in the book of Acts (Compare Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

When Jesus said that His disciples were not of the world in John 17, He also said: “‘I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one'” (Verse 15).

John reminds us of why we are now living a way of life that is different–that is not “of” this world:

“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:4-6).

We must differentiate between truth and error; between righteousness and sin; and between God and Satan. That means that we also must “overcome the world” as Jesus did. He did not participate in this world’s governments, showing that His Kingdom was not of this world–this age and civilization–rather, it was future (Compare John 18:28-38). Jesus did not violate the rules and laws of this present age, as long as they did not contradict God’s Law (Compare Luke 20:20-26). His ministers taught that Christians are to be subject to authority (Compare Romans 13:1-7). Of course, that is provisional in terms of whether it is a question of obeying God or man–as we have already read in Acts. When man’s rules and laws are in conflict with God’s commandments–in the letter OR in the spirit–then we must obey God (Compare Daniel 3:16-18).

Finally, we have these words from John that dramatically point out that those who follow what Jesus Christ taught must stand separate from the age and the world in which we live:

“We know that we are of God, and THE WHOLE WORLD lies under the sway of the wicked one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:19-20).

Lead Writers: Dave Harris and Norbert Link

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