For believers that live in a Christianized western world, blessing one’s cursers and praying for one’s mistreaters probably seem like relatively easy things to do, as real hatred is so rarely experienced. Cursing and mistreatment are fairly tame, and have little impact in a culture that does not operate on the basis of honor and shame. Because of that, a number of western believers have a tendency to create dummies and bogeymen, and point to those often-theoretical and non-specific enemies (the world, the flesh, the devil) as those that hate them because of the name of Jesus, when such is generally not the case.
In so doing, believers find convenient excuses to isolate themselves from the world around them, in what is actually a Gospel and Resurrection and kingdom of redemption denying way, clustering together within the four walls of their church buildings as if they are modern-day Qumran communities that are awaiting their God’s judgment to fall from heaven on these pretend enemies in a way that will vindicate their self-decided holiness. However, in Jesus’ day, with this talk of enemies that hate and curse and mistreat, which may very well have been heard as not-so-subtle references to the Romans, such thinking was radical, especially if Jesus was indeed the Messiah that was supposed to be raised up and ordained to drive the Romans from their land.
Finally, in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, an extended discourse on being hated can be found. This discourse begins with “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated Me first” (15:18). John positions this discourse within what is generally referred to as Jesus’ “parting words” to His disciples, thereby placing it, in a strictly chronological sequence, after the record of Mark. That, of course, simply points to the fact that Jesus said the same things multiple times, rather than a faulty memory or a merely fictitious construction on the part of the author.
Regardless of placement, it serves well to make the point that the disciples of Jesus heard these things as something of a regular topic, and that they did so in an atmosphere that was highly charged with ideas of revolution, with that revolution and its victory (though it would be through their Messiah) presumed to be coming at the hands of the very same God that had once saved His people out of Egypt, and Who had (according to the way that Israel’s prophetic literature was to be understood) promised to do the same thing again.
It is always key to hold fast to the thought that the people to whom Jesus spoke, be it His disciples or fellow Israelites (though His wider audience also frequently included Gentiles), always thought of themselves as the people delivered from slavery in Egypt. This was a key component of their self-identification. Though they had been more recently been delivered from a Babylonian exile, which allowed a rebuilding of the Temple and a rebuilding of Jerusalem, this return from exile was always considered incomplete, so the more sure demonstration of the power and faithfulness of their God, which more readily identified Israel as His chosen and special people through which He desired to carry out His purposes in and for this world, was the deliverance from Egypt under Moses.
The record of Exodus, and the ideas associated with the event of the exodus, are what influences the soteriological terms that are encountered within the divine record, such as redemption, deliverance, rescue, and salvation. When such words are put to use in Israel, be it by a judge, a Psalmist, a prophet, a king, or by Jesus, that usage would generate a remembrance of the God that delivered from Egypt.
In turn, this would stir a remembrance of the Sinai covenant, which should then remind the hearer (or the reader) of the Abrahamic covenant, thereby driving thoughts right back to that which the Abrahamic covenant was designed to correct, which was the condition of the world that was understood to have been brought into about by the fall of man. In a culture in which these stories were told and heard on a daily basis, and which were highlighted at the times of the festivals, it does not strain credulity in the least to posit such a manner of contemplation.