Followers of Jesus will be persecuted.
Are you ready?
The word “persecution” gets our attention, makes us sweat, raises our blood pressure, and ruins many a night sleep. This is an unattractive part of the Christian life but an essential part of the walk of faith. So serious, so important is persecution that we want to get it right – bringing honor to God in the Christian life’s most difficult situations. So, let’s take a careful look at what the Bible can teach us about it.
Point number one: Persecution is promised to all believers.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
What is that saying? Brace yourself! It’s saying if you are not persecuted as a Christian, you have not lived a godly life. Maybe you hid your faith in Christ, or maybe you acted like the world. Either way you did not live godly – because godliness is a magnet for persecution. You are suffering because Christlikeness was evident in your life. “Godly living means refusal to be silent or compromise. Instead it means boldly defending the faith and courageously and lovingly confronting the fortress of unbelief.” “Scars are the price which every believer pays for his loyalty to Jesus. They are also his credentials before God.”
Keep in mind persecution can take many forms – from being verbally assaulted on one extreme all the way to being killed at the other extreme – with countless, sometimes torturous, variants in between.
There is no getting around the fact that persecution is a required course in the Christian life.
This theme is expanded a bit in Psalms:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous. Psalm 34:19a
There is a plethora of mishaps in life that have the ability to break our hearts as believers. The list is not short.
Furthermore, the writer of Psalm 119, without question a believer living a godly life, weaves into this long salute to the role, power, and indispensability of the Bible the thread of persecution he himself experiences.
Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:23
The insolent utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law. Psalm 119:51
The insolent smear me with lies,
but with my whole heart I keep your precepts. Psalm 119:69
Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. Psalm 119:78
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law. Psalm 119:85
The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
but I consider your testimonies. Psalm 119:95
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts. Psalm 119:110
Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words. Psalm 119:161
The writer has attracted a wide variety of persecutors ranging from people in high places (princes) to the wicked and insolent – a smorgasbord of God haters. Clearly a life sold-out to God is not immune to opponents but quite the contrary – an attractive target for them.
As we move to the New Testament it’s clear our Savior did not want His followers taken by surprise at the sometimes painful, high price they would pay for their commitment to Him.
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. John 15:18-20
Hate is a strong word. And that is what Christ followers bring down upon themselves.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Matthew 10:35
Heads up! When some family members receive Christ and other family members reject Him, interfamily strife is a certainty. We were warned.
But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Luke 21:16
Hatred of Christ and His cause will supersede ties of blood and friendship.
You will be hated by everybody for my name’s sake. Luke 21:17
““Everybody” means haters of Christ will come at you regardless of their rank, station, race, nationality, sex or age.” No limits.
Paul also weighs in on persecution in the Christian life
….. the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance….
2 Corinthians 1:5
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
What triggers this persecution?
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Colossians 1:24
“In other words, they hate believers because they hated Him, but He’s not here so they hit His followers. Another way to think of it would be I take the blows for Him who took all the blows for me.”
Peter also had some thoughts on persecution:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12
“Often most of the painful emotions that people experience during adversity are actually the shock and surprise that they are suffering at all. Even many Christians believe God will not let bad things happen to them. But Jesus disproves that. If God allowed a perfect man to suffer terribly for a greater, wonderful good, why should we think that won’t happen to believers who are trying to walk with Him?”
Persecution is an unavoidable part of the Christian life. Those people who say that Christianity is for sissies clearly have missed or ignored this.
Point number two: Persecution can sometimes be avoided or minimized – for a while at least.
The Exodus from Egypt
Daniel in the lion’s den
Shadrach & friends in the fiery furnace,
Jesus passing thru crowd,
Peter released from jail
Paul left for dead but survives
These believers wisely saw no virtue in volunteering to be martyrs and did not do so. They took advantage of the escape route God provided them.
Point number three: The list of those persecuted in the Bible is lengthy.
Daniel and friends
John the Baptist
Jesus – the best example of all
James the apostle
(Church tradition tells us that all of the 11 apostles were martyred with the exception of John.)
Paul shares his own noteworthy persecution resume:
I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 2 Corinthians 11:23f
Peter is told by Jesus how his life will end:
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. John 21:18-19
Peter, you too will be crucified.
And Hebrews “Hall of Fame” chapter 11 shares the persecution of countless unnamed believers:
and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:36-38
And what about the future?
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:13-14
The context here is the Great Tribulation when many will repent from their sins, begin to follow Jesus, and be martyred as a result. The Christian blood bath will end only at the 2nd coming.
It (the antichrist) was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. Revelation 13:7a
What significant believer in the Bible had an easy life?
And persecution of followers of Jesus Christ did not end when the Bible was completed. The trail of blood of martyred believers is deep and wide, running from the cross to today. More Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th century than all prior centuries combined.
One estimate is that on average 300,000 believers died each year in 20th century.
We might be the next to die for Christ.
Point number four: The believer’s response to persecution is clear.
Revenge? Not an option.
Wasn’t that the point of Jesus rebuking Peter for cutting off the ear in the garden just prior to His arrest?
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21
Persecution gives no Christian the right to act like a non-Christian. On the contrary……….
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you Matthew 5:43-44
It is a stunner that the guest of honor at the Last Supper was none other than Judas Iscariot! Jesus practiced what He preached.
Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Psalm 44:22
“The man who today enters upon the Christian life is enlisting in a warfare against the whole current of the age.”
for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,12 which is why I suffer as I do. 2 Timothy 1:11-12a
Paul is speaking here and sees clearly the direct link between sharing the Gospel and persecution. One naturally flows from the other. If people don’t repent, attacking the messenger is a likely response.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Colossians 1:24
“Here’s how Paul saw it, when Jesus was on the earth they persecuted Jesus, right? Mercilessly, continuously until finally they killed him. And when Jesus died and rose again and then later ascended into heaven, the world was not through persecuting Him. They’re still not through. Paul’s not adding to the suffering of Christ. If Christ came back, they’d kill him again. If He came back again and again and again, they’d kill Him every time He came back. He doesn’t come back, so they kill us, they martyr us, they abuse us, they imprison us.
“How amazing is it? How appropriate is it that Christ be in heaven all glorious, exalted, never to be struck again and we here take the blows meant for Him.”
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, Philippians 1:29
“Every Christian in the early church knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life. This was normal. To become a Christian was to risk your life. Tens of thousands did it.”
“I asked an old-time missionary who has made a dozen trips to unregistered house churches in China if believers pray for relief from persecution. His response, “They assume they’ll face opposition. They can’t imagine anything else.””
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
When a Christian has that attitude, he is free to serve no matter what the consequences.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” John 11:25
“Christ calls us to take risks for kingdom purposes” “To every timid saint waiving on the edge of some dangerous gospel venture He says,
Dear friends, don’t be afraid of these who want to murder you. They can only kill the body; they have no power over your souls. Luke 12:4”
God loves risk takers
When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best men of Israel and arrayed them against the Syrians……. And he said, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:9-12
Being fearless….taking a risk….
Esther broke the royal law to save her people and said,
if I perish, I perish. Esther 4:16b
Being fearless…..taking a risk…
Shadrach and friends when facing the prospect of the fiery furnace said,
our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set. Daniel 3:17-18
Being fearless…..taking a risk….
And Paul shares own his fearless attitude:
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24
We are specifically commanded to go into all the world with the Good News of Jesus
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:19
Please note it doesn’t say go to safe nations. It says “all” which includes closed countries, war-torn countries, hostile countries. This is a call to be unstoppable for the Gospel.
USE YOUR RESOURCES!
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be
ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 2 Timothy 1:7,8
The very power of God is available to believers as we testify of Him in the midst of persecution. Let’s use it!
Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. Luke 21:14-15
God’s guidance is available when we are forced to explain ourselves. We don’t have to worry about being at a loss for words.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9,10
God’s grace is available and will be seen in an entirely new, practical way when persecuted.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5
God’s wisdom is available. When is wisdom more needed than in the midst of persecution, and God is saying, “Come and get it”.
What a massive assortment of resources at our disposal!
Point number five: There are benefits to going through persecution.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Matthew 5:11
Yes, there are many benefits that come to believers as a direct result of persecution. And the list is impressive!
INTIMACY WITH CHRIST
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death Philippians 3:10
“One of the things I gain in Christ is somebody to fellowship with when I suffer. Did you get that? Somebody to fellowship with when I suffer, somebody who has suffered far beyond any suffering I will ever know, far beyond any suffering I will ever feel or experience, and I need a companion in my suffering. Any Christian on the face of the earth will tell you that the deepest moments of spiritual fellowship with the living Christ are the direct result of intense suffering. No question about it. Suffering always drives us to Christ. Why? Because we find there the succoring sympathetic merciful high priest who cares…the friend who feels our pain who is in all points tempted like as we are, who knows our weakness and our infirmities. And he is saying how blessed I am to be persecuted and to know that I am simply following the one who was persecuted before me and in whose fellowship I find comfort.”
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
“That does not mean that Job and Paul’s afflictions were not intense. But simply standing in the presence God – with the accompanying splendor and majesty – is an experience that transcends the suffering of this corrupt age.”
SECURITY IN CHRIST!
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. 1 John 3:1
It is painful but true. Believers can lose their jobs, families, homes, life savings, and their country can go down the drain. But here we have the one thing believers can never lose: their membership in God’s family. There are times when we have greatly upset our parents, but we are still members of the family. There are times when we have greatly upset our heavenly Father, but we are still members of His family. He takes us into His family when we repent and “establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship”. We always have His shoulder to lean on. That can never be taken away from us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
“We will never be denied everlasting love.”
Does this mean we understand everything that happens to us?
No! We simply trust the one who is directing our steps.
A man’s steps are of the Lord;
How then can a man understand his own way?
OPPORTUNITIES TO WITNESS!
If persecution results in silencing us, the devil has won a huge victory. That is NOT how Peter, John and Paul responded.
But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. Acts 4:15-20
Peter and John would not be silenced but proceeded to share the Good News.
And then there is Paul who in the midst of being persecuted seized opportunities to witness about Christ to
the Jerusalem mob Acts 22
Felix Acts 24
Agrippa Acts 26
Persecution gives us a never before obtained platform from which to proclaim the truth. Let’s seize that opportunity!
James, knowing the tremendous character building power of adversity, wrote:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope Romans 5:3-4
What conclusion should we draw from James and Paul? “Make a good interpretation of God’s ways toward you. That means if you have some trouble perhaps God has given that trial to build your character. Perhaps God is preparing you for some greater work or setting the stage for some great grace.
“In His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul God relies on the troughs more than the peaks. And some of his special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The richest soil on God’s farm is the soil of adversity.”
“Suffering is our preparation for ministry in a world of suffering – all manner of suffering. This is not a world for shallow people with soft character. It needs tested, toughened disciples who are prepared, like their Lord, to descend into “hell” to redeem the lost.”
“We cannot be established except by suffering. It is of no use our hoping that we shall be well-rooted if no March winds have passed over us. The young oak cannot be expected to strike its roots so deep as the old one. The old gnarlings of the roots and those strange twisting of the branches all tell of many storms that have swept over the aged tree. But they are also indicators of the depths into which the roots have dived.”
“Men will never become great in godliness until they have become great in suffering. Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.”
OPPORTUNITES TO GLORIFY GOD
How can you do that in the midst of sometimes nasty persecution? By having a trusting attitude towards Him as you go through persecution instead of becoming bitter. How can you do that? By looking at Jesus suffering infinitely for you.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them Acts 16:25
In spite of just having been beaten, they did not wallow in self-pity but put on a concert in prison. They got out of the way and let God work through them. Their love for God was undiminished by the day’s events so they let their praise and adoration and worship of God flow up to heaven and also into the ears of all around.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
And “all” would include being persecuted. As you and I make a concerted effort to get out of the way and let God work through us, He will be glorified through us. There is no higher calling.
Point number six: Comfort is available in the midst of persecution.
GOD IN CHARGE!
Do not doubt it!
……. all things work together for good….
can only be true if God is in control of all events, the undisputed sovereign, the Lord of the universe.
Job knew that when he said,
You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? Job 2:10
“The winds that bring the storm and the winds that drive away the storm both belong to God.” For Job God is the source of blessing and adversity.
Significantly, when Job begins his lament he does not address or rebuke the devil. He addresses his lament to God.
“On a wall in Germany where Jews hid from Nazis someone wrote, “I believe in the sun even when it is not showing, I believe in love even when I don’t feel it, I believe in God even when He is silent.”
When we process the persecution we receive, concluding that God has lost control of the universe is not an option.
GOD HIMSELF THE COMFORTER!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-4
“The God of all comfort never fails. It is His nature. He will always bestow the appropriate encouragement, comfort and strength on His people. The Lord who is a friend sticking closer than a brother, the Lord who is with us always is near as hands and feet, as near as breathing. The Lord who never leaves us or forsakes us, the Lord who takes up residence in us…” Paul shares this out of revelation and personal experience.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12
“Believers will be in heaven for eternity, on earth for only an unpredictably brief amount of time. The point? Invest in eternity, not here. I’ve just got a little snitch of time on earth, and I want to pile all of it that I can into God’s bank account, so it’ll pay me eternal dividends – not for me, but so that I can take them and place them at His blessed feet in praise.”
And when it says “great” is our reward it means great. Doesn’t it make you speechless to think of Him rewarding you that much?
But there is another rich reward in this verse: Persecuted believers are in a classy group. “If you have any doubts about your salvation, if you have any questions about whether you’re in the kingdom, if there is persecution in your life from unbelievers, you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you belong to God because they’ll be doing to you exactly what they did to God’s called prophets.” How incredible!
” It’s going to be those who suffered the most who will receive the greatest reward. We are not going through persecution for nothing. God takes note and rewards accordingly.”
Church historians tell us, “Persecution does not always create growth in numbers……but it does eliminate nominal believers who only go to church for shallow reasons. The church members remaining who are willing to endure suffering for their Christianity demonstrate faith that seems particularly real and particularly persuasive to nonbelievers.”
Ever notice that the two churches in Revelation 2 & 3 that receive no correction are the persecuted ones?
GOD WITH US!
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b
We are not going through persecution alone. He will be with us every step of the way…….and all the way to heaven.
Followers of Jesus will be persecuted.
Are you ready?