As you continue watching and waiting for the Lord's return, I would like to share a two-part message with you about the persecution of the saints. Many people are being persecuted for Christ at this time, and it seems to be on the rise around the world. So let me encourage you.
Hatred and Persecution Predicted
First of all, Jesus and Paul predicted hatred and persecution of Christians.
The Lord said, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 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."
"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; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also." (Joh 15:18-23)
In His high priestly prayer, He said to the Father, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14,15)
Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mar 10:29-30)
"But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. (Luk 21:12)
The apostle Paul said, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2Ti 3:12)
Some Believers are Killed
Persecution can be severe, even to the point of death. Jesus predicted some believers would be killed.
"These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God." (Joh 16:1-2)
"But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you. (Joh 16:4)
"Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city.” (Mat 23:34; cf., Luk 11:49)
Great Reward for Those Who Are Persecuted
Jesus said we are blessed with great reward when we are persecuted.
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mat 5:10)
"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:11-12)
Note that we are supposed to rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted for righteousness, and we are not just supposed to accept it with either a neutral or bad attitude.
The Apostles Endured and Even Rejoiced in
When Peter and John were persecuted, they actually rejoiced for being counted worthy to suffer for Christ.
"So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name."(Act 5:41)
Paul said, "And we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;" (1Co 4:12)
He also said he was content with persecutions for Christ. "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Co 12:10)
No matter what persecutions Paul experienced, God delivered him out of them all!! He said, "Persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!" (2Ti 3:11)
Love and Pray for Persecutors
Jesus said to love and pray for those who persecute you
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Mat 5:44, 45)
Paul said, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (Rom 12:14)
Flee from Persecution without Fear
Jesus instructed us to flee from persecution but not to fear them.
"But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. (Mat 10:23-26).
Note that if they called Jesus a devil and He is our Master, then what will they call us who are His servants and lesser than Him?
Those without Deep Roots Fall Away
Jesus said that believers with no deep roots would fall away because of persecution.
"The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. (Mat 13:20-21)
Persecution Cannot Separate Us from God’s love
When you are persecuted, you may feel as if you have done something wrong, or as if God is not pleased with you. However, it doesn’t mean God has forsaken us. Persecution cannot separate us from God’s love.
"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Rom 8:35)
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;" (2Co 4:7-9)
The Hall of Faith
Consider the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. Like the Hall of Fame, it commends those who have suffered persecution for righteousness. All these people gained approval through their faith.
"And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 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 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect." (Heb 11:32-40)
Consider also Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which is "a history of the lives, sufferings and triumphant deaths of the early Christian and the Protestant martyrs." It contains scores of true stories about those who were persecuted for Christ, many of whom gave their lives for Him. One such person was John Bunyan, who was himself persecuted for Christ. During his second imprisonment, three years after his first and longer one, he wrote an allegorical book, called Pilgrim's Progress, in which he aptly stated: "There was Ignatius, who was cast to the lions; Romanus, whose flesh was cut by pieces from his bones; and Polycarp, that played the man in the fire; there was he that was hanged up in a basket in the sun for the wasps to eat; and he whom they put into a sack, and cast him into the sea to be drowned." If you have never read Foxe's Book of Martyrs, I highly recommend it.
End Time Persecution
Consider what the Lord showed Daniel about persecution of the saints in the end times:
"I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them." (Dan 7:21)
'He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Dan 7:25)
"His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, And he will destroy to an extraordinary degree And prosper and perform his will; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people." (Dan 8:24)
"Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future." (Dan 10:14)
"For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore he will be disheartened and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant and take action; so he will come back and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. (Dan 11:30)
"By smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days. Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time. (Dan 11:32-35)
The revelation given to the apostle John is in agreement with Daniel's revelation:
"And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth. So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." (Rev 12:13-17)
"It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him." (Rev 13:7)
"If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints." (Rev 13:10)
"Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus." (Rev 14:12)
"For they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it." (Rev 16:6)
"And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly." (Rev 17:6)
"And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth." (Rev 18:24)
Three and a Half Years of Final Persecution
Regardless of what you believe about the end times, you cannot deny that the Scripture speaks of a final period of persecution lasting three and a half years.
'He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time." (Dan 7:25)
"I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed." (Dan 12:7)
"Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days." (Dan 12:10-11)
"There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him." (Rev 13:5-7)
Also see Rev 11:2-4; 12:6, 14
The Scriptures make it clear that the saints have the ultimate victory through all the persecution.
"I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom." (Dan 7:21-22)
'Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.' (Dan 7:27)
"Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued." (Dan 12:1)
"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Rev 12:11)
"Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her." (Rev 18:20)
Putting it All Together
As we have just seen in God's Word, Jesus and Paul predicted hatred and persecution of Christians. The Lord predicted some believers would be killed, and said we are blessed with great reward when we are persecuted. He said to love and pray for those who persecute you. He instructed us to flee from persecution but not to fear them. He said that believers with no deep roots would fall away because of persecution
Persecution cannot separate us from God’s love. It doesn’t mean God has forsaken us. Paul the apostle endured persecutions and was content with them. Persecution is definitely one of the signs of the end times. It seems to increase as this age reaches its fulfillment. There is a period of three and a half years, during which there will be intense final persecution of the saints. However, we already know that the saints have the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. Hallelujah! We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
I hope that this has encouraged you today to joyfully endure whatever persecution or suffering you may be experiencing now or have to go through in the future. Tertullian once said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Many are the heroic stories of men and women of faith who entered into their eternal reward through gates of splendor and gates of martyrdom.
Part II - The Nature of Persecution
Image credit: "The Christian Martyr's Last Prayer" by Jean-Léon Gérôme - Walters Art Museum, image taken from Wikimedia Commons. William T. Walters commissioned this painting in 1863, but the artist did not deliver it until 20 years later. In a letter to Walters, Gérôme identified the setting as ancient Rome's racecourse, the Circus Maximus. He noted such details as the goal posts and the chariot tracks in the dirt. The artist also commented on the religious fortitude of the victims who were about to suffer martyrdom either by being devoured by the wild beasts or by being smeared with pitch and set ablaze. In the painting, you can see one martyr standing and praying in the midst of other kneeling saints huddled in prayer, and others are hung on crosses about to be burned alive.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Other Scriptures may be taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, I also recommend The Nature of Persecution, Persecuted or Popular?, Faithful Until Death: The Glory of Martyrdom for Christ, Confrontational Evangelism, The Rise of Antichrists, The Top Ten Things Jesus Taught, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Popularity of the Gospel, Ask for the Ancient Paths, The Knowledge of the Holy, Separation from the World, Ultimate Accountability, Avoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, The Cost of Discipleship, and The Judgment Seat of Christ. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org