"If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." (John 15:20-21)Is Jesus saying that those who are persecuting him and his disciples would be sinless if he had not come then? This would make little sense, because the various texts of the Old Testament also discuss sin, long before Jesus' arrival. And how could being sinful be linked with Jesus' coming?
The answer lies in a misunderstanding of the use of the word "sin" within the context of this discussion.
What does he mean by sin?
The word "sin" here is translated* from the Greek word ἁμαρτία (hamartia). This word has a broad scope of meanings, depending upon its context. The Greek means, according to the lexicon, "to be without a share in; to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor; to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God; violate God's law; that which is done wrong; an offense; a violation of the divine law in thought or in act; collectively, the complex or aggregate of sins committed either by a single person or by many."
We might compare the use of this word much like a person might use the word "program" in English. To set up a program might be done for a school course or as an administrative function. A program might also be an arrangement of musical songs for a symphony or a set of events within a ceremony. Then again a program might be software written for a computer - a computer program. While each of these uses can be well defined by the word program, a person could easily be confused if they thought the discussion of the program related to a graduation ceremony while the person was actually discussing a computer program.
The only way to truly understand the meaning of such a broad word then is to expand our understanding of the word itself. A person who didn't know what a computer program was would have to come to understand this use of the word, for example.
Within its doctrines, ecclesiastical sectarian institutions that supposedly represent Jesus have set up such a rigid definition for the word "sin" that it is difficult to understand its meaning when used variously by Jesus, the prophets and elsewhere in the scriptures within different contexts.
Their rigid definition of "sin" relates to a narrow context of a person committing acts that make the person go to hell. This is narrow because in reality, a person who sins is already in hell. The basis for sinning is self-centeredness. Yet there are a myriad of activities a person may do in that self-centered consciousness that can thus be considered sinful.
While we can understand that Jesus ultimately regards ἁμαρτία (hamartia) or "sin" to be the wandering from the way of God as mentioned later in the definition above, he is using the word specifically in this statement to refer to the earlier definition, i.e., "to err, be mistaken," and more specifically, "an offense."
In other words, Jesus is referring to their offensiveness and error in judgment in terms of persecuting Jesus and his disciples. And what is their offense and error in judgment? They took Jesus to be an ordinary person. They assumed that Jesus was like them - someone who was selfishly motivated and trapped within the consciousness of the physical world - hell. (Sorry, but this is hell. Or do you think slavery, starvation, torture, mass killings of children and other activities are not hellish?)
But Jesus was not like them. Jesus is God's representative. Jesus was on a mission to spread the message of love for God throughout hell, in order to bring us home. And those of Jesus' disciples who also accepted that mission also became representatives of the Supreme Being.
This particular offensive error of judgment by those who persecuted Jesus and his followers naturally required Jesus be there. Without Jesus' presence, they would not have made that offense against him. This doesn't mean they were not offending the Supreme Being in other ways, however.
Yes, the correct word here to describe this situation is offense. Those who thought of Jesus as an ordinary person were offensive. They offended not just Jesus, but they offended the Supreme Being.
Just imagine if a president of a government were to send an ambassador to a foreign country to carry that foreign government an important message. Imagine how that president would feel if the foreign government murdered the ambassador after he delivered the message. The president would be more than just offended by such an act.
Now extend this offense within the context of love. While a president typically is not engaged in a loving relationship with an ambassador, the Supreme Being and Jesus were indeed engaged in a loving relationship. Jesus was performing loving service on behalf of his Beloved, the Supreme Being.
Just consider how offensive the act of not just considering Jesus an ordinary person, but of murdering his physical body on a cross. This is the worst offense in the history of humanity.
And just consider how offensive it is to continue that persecution of Jesus on the cross as some do to this day in order to attempt to relieve the consequences of their self-centered activities.
To use the torture and suffering of God's beloved servant and messenger to relieve our sins is, in a word, offensive. It is, quite frankly and ironically, sinful.
Consider the analogy of finding the body of a friend who came to help us who got ambushed and murdered on their way to us. As we come upon our friend's dead body we drag the body off to our camp and begin using the body and its blood to wash ourselves with. How gory is this? Is this much different than using the murder of God's beloved servant for our own purposes of cleansing our sins? Or how about wearing the instrument of the murder of his physical body around our necks as a fashion statement?
Then after celebrating Jesus' torture on the cross and how it relieves our sins - going out to continue those self-centered activities and coming back to church the next Sunday to try to wash our sins off on his crucified body again?
To these Jesus made a very clear statement:
"Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:22-23)Those ecclesiastical sectarian teachers who conduct these very activities - supposed healings, driving out of demons, and supposedly cleansing peoples sins with their grotesque rituals of using Jesus' blood and so on - are doing precisely what Jesus is describing here. And despite their fanaticism, Jesus never knew them.
These are the very same teachers and their followers that promote the absurd materialistic celebrations surrounding Jesus' appearance and disappearance - Christmas and Easter - with fat men in red suits and bunnies teasing us with plastic toys and chocolate-covered eggs.
And notice that these ecclesiastical sectarian teachers also claim Jesus is God - abandoning the very principle Jesus put forth:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)"My Father who is in heaven" is obviously not Jesus, especially since Jesus said this when he was walking the earth, and especially since saying "Lord, Lord" to Jesus is being differentiated from doing God's will.
And what is "doing God's will" anyway?
Doing God's will means serving God. It means doing what God wants us to do. It is the opposite of self-centeredness - the basis for all forms of sin.
The cure for self-centeredness - and thus sin - is love. Jesus gave us the simple recipe that will ultimately save us:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)
*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement from the Gospels of Jesus:
"If I had not appeared and spoke to them they would not have offenses. But now they have no excuse for their offenses.” (John 15:22)