DOCTRINE OF PERSECUTION
John 15:20-21, “If they persecuted Me (and they have), they will also persecute you all. 21But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”
Bruce stated, “The Lord who was personally persecuted on earth continued to be persecuted, even in His exaltation, in the person of His persecuted followers. Their being persecuted for His sake was a sign that they belonged to Him, as it was a token of coming judgment on their persecutors” (Bruce, p.313).
- To oppress or harass with ill-treatment.
- To frequently or persistently annoy or threaten someone, even of death.
- To treat someone extremely badly or to refuse them equal rights, especially because of their race, religion, or political beliefs.
From a Biblical Perspective:
- The hatred and affliction that follows the witness and holy life of God’s people in a hostile world.
- From the moment of salvation, every believer, regardless of age or sex, regardless of status in life, is in the midst of a great spiritual conflict, which we call the Angelic Conflict. The creation of man is the result of this conflict, which has existed since some time in eternity past. It is a conflict in which the fallen angels are pitted against God, against the elect angels, and against believers.
- The Church Age in which we now live is unique. It is the age in which Jesus Christ as the God-Man is glorified: He is seated at the right hand of the Father in His resurrection body, as far as His humanity is concerned (His deity was always glorified), and therefore the angelic conflict has shifted gears. Until the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, it was the intent of the fallen angels to frustrate (persecute) the incarnation of Christ and to thwart the dissemination of information regarding Him. Since Christ did go to the Cross and is now glorified, the former purpose has changed. Every believer is now the target in the Angelic Conflict, which has greatly intensified. In fact, the New Testament uses actual warfare as a basis for illustrating the great spiritual battle in which we find ourselves, Eph 6:10-18.
The Greek noun DIOGMOS – διωγμός (dee-ogue-mos’) means, “persecution” in Mat 13:21; Mark 10:30; 4:17; Acts 8:1; 13:50; Rom 8:35; 2 Cor 12:10; 2 Thes 1:4; 2 Tim 3:11.
Its root word is DIOKO – διώκω (dee-o’-ko) that means, “to put to flight or pursue,” and by implication means, “persecution.” It is used for:
- Persecute in Mat 5:11, 44; 10:23; 23:34; Luke 21:12; John 5:16; 15:20; Rom 12:14.
- Persecuted in Mat 5:10, 12; John 15:20; Acts 7:52; 22:4; 26:11; 1 Cor 4:12; 15:9; 2 Cor 4:9; Gal 1:13, 23; 4:29; 6:11-12; 2 Tim 3:12; Rev 12:13.
- Persecuting in Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15; Phil 3:6.
The Hebrew equivalent to DIOGMOS is MURDAPH – מֻרְדָּף (moor-dawf’) and is used in Isa 14:6.
Its root word RADAPH – רָדַף (raw-daf’) which means, “to pursue, chase, or persecute” is equivalent to the Greek word
RADAPH is used for:
- Persecute in, Job 19:22, 28; Psa 7:1, 5; 31:15; 35:3, 6; 69:26; 119:84, 86.
- Persecuted in, Deut 30:7; Psa 109:16; 119:161; 143:3.
Persecution in the Old Testament Times:
The New Testament has many warnings regarding persecutions for Church Age believers. At the same time, our Lord and the writers of the New Testament spoke of the persecutions of Old Testament saints as well, as did Isaiah and the Psalmists. Jesus said to the Pharisees that innocent blood had been shed in those times, and that they were showing themselves heirs, (to use a legal phrase), to their fathers who had persecuted the righteous, “from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah”, Mat 23:34-36 also in Luke 11:51.
The Zachariah in the Matthew verse is not the prophet Zechariah who wrote the Old Testament book of Zechariah, but is another whose murder is recorded in 2 Chron 24:20-22.
In the Hebrew Bible, Genesis is the first book and recorded the first murder, Abel’s, and 2 Chronicles is the last book that records Zechariah’s murder. Therefore, Christ is saying, “from the first to the last murder (persecution) in the Bible.”
In Acts 7:52, Stephen accused the Pharisees of the same, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.”
The concept of persecution is prevalent throughout the Old Testament. The writer of Hebrews listed many individuals who suffered persecution: Again Abel, at the hands of Cain; Joseph by his brothers; David by Saul. Elijah was forced to flee for his life, 1 Kings 19; Jeremiah was dropped into a well, Jeremiah 38; Amos was driven out of the sanctuary, Amos 7; and Daniel was thrown to the lions, Daniel 6.
As a nation, Israel experienced persecution all during its existence, but especially so during the period of the Maccabees, (168 through 163 B.C.). Thousands of Jews immigrated to surrounding countries. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, (175 through 163 B.C.), many Jews were murdered, because they refused to participate in the idol worship of their captors. (Complete Biblical Library)
Persecutions in the Period Between the Close of the Old Testament and the Coming of Christ:
Believing Jews endured persecutions during this period because of their refusal to embrace idolatry, and of their faithfulness to the Mosaic Law and the true worship of God. During that time, there were many who were true martyrs and heroes of faith. For example:
As noted above, the Maccabees were among those who were as Daniel stated in Dan 11:32, “The people who know their God will display strength and take action.”
Jonathan the Jewish high priest said, “We have no need of human help having for our comfort the sacred Scriptures which are in our hands,” 1 Macc 12:9.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, persecutions during the Jewish Dispensation are summed up in Heb 11:36-38.
Heb 11:36-38: “And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37They 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.”
Persecutions of the New Testament:
As we noted above, in the New Testament DIOKO is most often used to mean “persecute.” It is a consistent theme in the New Testament. Jesus met with persecution, John 5:16; Acts 22:8. But perhaps most prevalent are the references to the followers of Jesus, members of His church, Mat 5:10; Luke 21:12; John 15:20; Rom 12:14, who met with persecution.
Also, the word DIOGMOS consistently means, “religious persecution.” Mark notes that DIOGMOS comes DIA TON LOGON, “because of the Word,” Mark 4:17; Mat 13:21.
Likewise, in Acts DIOGMOS comes “upon” the Church, Acts 8:1, or individuals of the Church, Acts 13:50, (Paul and Barnabas).
The sense in Rom 8:35 might possibly be ambiguous, except it is certain from other instances that Paul was referring to “persecution because of Christ,” 2 Cor 12:10; 2 Tim 3:11; cf. 2 Thes 1:4. Thus DIOGMOS is virtually a technical term for “persecution” in the New Testament.
Other Examples Include:
- John the Baptist was thrown into prison and subsequently beheaded, Mat 14:3 f.
- Jesus Christ as a young child was threatened with persecution in all its intensity, Mat 2.
- Throughout His ministry, Jesus showed an awareness of His own demise, Mat 17:12, and in the final months of His earthly life, He discussed the subject frequently with His disciples. From the onset of His public ministry, Jesus suffered tremendous persecution which culminated in His violent death on the cross.
Persecutions Foretold by Christ:
Persecution was frequently foretold by Christ, as certain to come to those who were His true disciples and followers. He forewarned them again and again that it was inevitable.
Before His death Jesus warned the disciples that they too would be persecuted if they continued to follow Him, Mat 5:10f; 10:16-28; John 15:18-21.
He told them they would be:
- Hated, Mat 24:9; John 16:2.
- Mocked, and spoken evil of, Mat 5:11.
- Ill-treated, Mat 24:9.
- Brought into court, Mat 10:17 f; Mark 13:9.
- Excluded from the synagogues, John 16:2.
- Murdered, Mat 10:21; 23:34; 24:9.
All of this would take place for Jesus’ sake, Mat 5:11; 24:9, and for the cause of righteousness, Mat 5:10.
During His incarnation Jesus told the disciples more than once that they would be persecuted for following him, Mark 10:30; Luke 21:12; John 15:20-21; 16:33.
John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Mat 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12“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 10:24-25, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25“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!”
He said that He Himself must suffer persecution, Mat 16:21; 17:22-23; Mark 8:31.
Mark 8:31, “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Paul also taught such warnings with encouragement in, 1 Cor 4:12-13; 2 Cor 4:7-10; Gal 4:29; 2 Tim. 3:12.
2 Tim 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
1 Cor 4:12-13, “… when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”
2 Cor 4:7-12, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
Various Forms of Persecution in the Early Church:
Persecutions would take different forms in the Early Church, ranging through varied possibilities from false accusation to the infliction of death, and beyond.
The early Church was primarily persecuted by the established religion of Jewish Sadducees and Pharisees, Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18.
As Christianity expanded beyond the Roman Empire and even within it, various heathens also persecuted those who witnessed for Christ.
Click to See: Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
The methods of persecution employed by the Jews, and also by the heathen against the followers of Christ, included:
- Men would revile them and would say all kinds of evil against them falsely, for Christ’s sake, Mat 5:11.
- Contempt and disparagement, Mat 10:25; John 8:48.
John 8:48, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
Mat 10:25, “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!”
- Based solely on the fact of their loyalty to Christ, they were forcibly separated from the company and the society of others, and expelled from the synagogues or other assemblies for the worship of God, Luke 6:22; John 16:2.
Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.”
John 16:2, “They will make you outcast from the synagogues.”
- Illegal arrest and plundering of goods, and death itself.
- In the case of Christ Himself, persecution took the form of:
a.) Attempts to entrap Him in His speech, Mat 22:15.
b.) The questioning of His authority, Mark 11:28.
c.) Illegal arrest.
d.) Every insult imaginable towards Him especially as a prisoner, false accusations, and a violent and most cruel death.
Remember that the slave is not greater than his master, as He suffered these things so too will His disciples.
All these various methods used by the persecutors were foretold, and all came to pass. It was the fear of apprehension and death that led the eleven disciples to forsake Jesus in Gethsemane and to flee for their lives. Jesus often forewarned them of the severity of the persecution, which they would need to encounter, if they were loyal to Him, Mat 23:34; John 16:2b.
Mat 23:34, “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.”
John 16:2b, “But an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”
Persecutions Were Primarily Instigated by the Legalistic Jews in the Early Church:
After our Lord’s resurrection, the first attacks against His disciples came from the high priest and his party. The high-priesthood was then in the hands of the Sadducees, and one reason which moved them to take action of this kind was their “being greatly troubled,” because the apostles “proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead,” Acts 4:2; 5:17. Sadducees did not believe in any form of resurrection, and therefore needed to stop the preaching of Christ resurrected to maintain their semblance of authority over the people.
The old joke says that they got their name because they did not believe in life after death which is “sad you see,” (sadd-u-cee)!
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, “The gospel based upon the resurrection of Christ was evidence of the falsehood of the chief doctrines held by the Sadducees, for they held that there is no resurrection. But instead of yielding to the evidence of the fact that the resurrection had taken place, they opposed and denied it, and persecuted His disciples. For a time, the Pharisees were more moderate in their attitude toward the Christian faith, as is shown in the case of Gamaliel, Acts 5:34; and on one occasion they were willing even to defend the apostle Paul, Acts 23:9, on the doctrine of the resurrection. But gradually the whole of the Jewish people became bitter persecutors of the Christians. Thus, in the earliest of the Pauline Epistles, it is said, “Ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they (in Judea) did of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and please not God, and are contrary to all men, 1 Thess 2:14-15.”
In the case of Stephen: a serious persecution of the Christian church began with the stoning to death of Stephen, Acts 7:1-60.
His lawless execution was followed by “a great persecution” directed against the Christians in Jerusalem.
- This “great persecution,” Acts 8:1 scattered the many members of the church, who fled in order to avoid bonds and imprisonment and death.
- At this time Saul (who later became Paul) established himself amongst the Pharisees and Sadducees by his great works in persecuting “this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,” Acts 22:4.
The Apostles, James and Peter: One by one the apostles were put to death, the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom was James the brother of John, who was slain with the sword by Herod Agrippa, Acts 12:2. Peter was imprisoned, and was delivered only by an angel, Acts 12:7-11.
During the period covered by the Acts, there was not much purely Gentile persecution: at that time, the persecution suffered by the Christian church was chiefly Jewish as noted above. There were, however, great dangers and risks encountered by the apostles and by all who proclaimed the gospel then.
At Philippi, Paul and Silas were cruelly persecuted, Acts 16:19-40; and, even before that time, Paul and Barnabas had suffered much at Iconium and at Lystra, Acts 14:5, 19.
During Paul’s life, for the most part, the Roman authorities were not actively hostile. The threat of Christianity was still to miniscule in their eyes to bother with.
The Persecutions of Nero: His full name Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was the Roman Emperor from 54 AD to 68 AD. During his reign as Emperor of Rome, the legal decisions which were favorable to the Christian faith were soon overturned following the great fire in Rome, which occurred in July, 64. At that time, a great fire destroyed much of the city. Nero himself was thought to have been the arson.
Fox’s Book of Martyrs states, “Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants.” To avoid suspicion from the people, he blamed it on “terrorists,” that being the Christians.
He made the Christians the scapegoats which he thought he needed. As a result, he ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified and burned.
Fox’s Book of Martyrs states, “He had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.”
The non-Christian historian Tacitus describes Nero extensively torturing and executing Christians after the fire of 64, (Annals xv. 44).
Another non-Christian historian Suetonius also mentions Nero punishing Christians, though he does so as a praise and does not connect it with the fire, (The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, chapter 16).
Also, the Christian writer Tertullian (c. 155- 230 AD) was the first to call Nero the first persecutor of Christians. He wrote “Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine,” (Tertullian Apologeticum, lost text quoted in, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, II.25.4.)
Persecution in Asia: In Revelation, the apostle John is in “Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” Rev 1:9, and persecution had broken out among the Christians in the province of Asia.
- At Smyrna, there is suffering, imprisonment, and prolonged tribulation; but the sufferers are encouraged when they are told that if they are faithful unto death, Christ will give them the Crown of Life, Rev 2:10.
- At Pergamum, persecution has already resulted in Antipas, Christ’s faithful martyr, being slain, Rev 2:13.
- At Ephesus and at Thyatira, the Christians are commended for their patient enduring, evidently indicating that there had been persecution, Rev 2:2, 19.
- At Philadelphia, there has been the attempt made to cause the members of the church to deny Christ’s name, Rev 3:8. Their patience is also commended, and the hour of temptation is spoken of, which comes to try the entire world, but from which Christ promised to keep the faithful Christians.
There is no distinct mention of persecution having taken place in Sardis or Laodicea. They had enough problems of their own in regard to their faith. They were not yet worthy of underserved suffering for blessing.
The Roman Empire as Persecutor: 2nd and 3rd Centuries: Speaking generally, persecution of greater or less severity was the normal method employed by the Roman Empire against the Christian church. Persecutions may have come to an end about the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 4th century, when the empire became nominally Christian. Prior to that, persecution became almost the normal state in which the church is found.
“For 200 years, to become a Christian meant the great renunciation, the joining a despised and persecuted sect, the swimming against the tide of popular prejudice, the coming under the ban of the Empire, the possibility at any moment of imprisonment and death under its most fearful forms. For 200 years the followers of Christ would count the cost, and be prepared to pay the same with his liberty and life. For 200 years the mere profession of Christianity was itself a crime. The Latin phrase CHIRSTIANUS SUM was almost the one plea for which there was no forgiveness, in itself all that was necessary as a ‘title’ on the back of the condemned. He who made it was allowed neither to present apology, nor call in the aid of a pleader. “‘Public hatred,’ writes Tertullian, ‘asks but one thing, and that not investigation into the crimes charged, but simply the confession of the Christian name.’ For the name itself in periods of stress, not a few, meant the rack, the blazing shirt of pitch, the lion, the panther, or in the case of maidens an infamy worse than death.” (Workman, 103).
With the exception of such instances as those of Nero and Domitian, there is the surprising fact that it was not the worst emperors, but the best, who became the most violent persecutors. One reason was that the ability of those emperors led them to see that the religion of Christ is really a divisive factor in any kingdom in which civil government and pagan religion are indissolubly bound up together. The more that such a ruler was intent on preserving the unity of the empire, the more would be persecution of the Christian faith. Hence, among the rulers who were persecutors, there are the names of Antoninus Pius. Marcus Aurelius the philosopher-emperor, and Septimius Severus (died at York, 211 Ad).
Pliny a proconsul of Bithynia in 111 or 112 AD, writes to the emperor Trajan a letter in which he describes the growth of the Christian faith and his efforts to “stem the tide of the advancing Christian faith.” He would round up Christians and demand that they renounce their faith, and pay allegiances to the Roman gods and Emperor via sacrifices and worship. In one letter Pliny stated, “I had them repeat after me an invocation of the gods, and offered prayer, with wine and incense, to your statue.” In another he said, “They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods.… I forbade the meeting of any assemblies, and therefore I judged it to be so much the more necessary to endeavor to extort the real truth by putting to the torture two female slaves, who were called deaconesses, yet I found nothing but an absurd and extravagant superstition.” These letters of Pliny and Trajan treat state-persecution as the standing procedure. The sufferings and tribulation noted in Rev 2:10, and in many other passages, had come to pass. Some of the Christians had denied the name of Christ and had worshipped the images of the emperor and of the idols, but multitudes of them had been faithful unto death, and had received the martyr’s Crown of Life.
Under Trajan’s successor, the emperor Hadrian, the lot of the Christians was full of uncertainty: persecution might break out at any moment. At the best Hadrian’s regime was only that of unauthorized toleration.
The Decian Persecutions: The persecution inaugurated by the emperor Decius in 250 AD was particularly severe. There was hardly a province in the empire where there were no martyrs; but there were also many who abandoned their faith and rushed to the magistrates to obtain their “LIBELLI,” or certificates that they had offered heathen sacrifice. When the days of persecution were over, these persons usually came with eagerness to seek readmission to the church. It was in the Decian persecution that the great theologian Origen, who was then in his 68th year, suffered the cruel torture of the rack; and from the effects of what he then suffered he died at Tyre in 254.
Other persecutions during the reign of Roman Emperors noted in Fox’s Book of Martyrs include:
- Domitian, A.D. 81
- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162
- Severus, A.D. 192 (Severus, having been recovered from a severe fit of sickness by a Christian, became a great favorer of the Christians in general; but the prejudice and fury of the ignorant multitude prevailing, obsolete laws were put in execution against the Christians.)
- During the reign of Maximus, in A.D. 235 there was in Cappadocia, the president, Seremianus who did all he could to exterminate the Christians from that province.
- Valerian, A.D. 257
- Aurelian, A.D. 274
- Diocletian, A.D. 303
Persecution in the Army: Service in the Roman army involved, for a Christian, increasing danger in the midst of an organized and aggressive heathenism. As a result, there arose the persecution of the Christian soldier who refused compliance with the idolatrous ceremonies in which the army engaged, whether those ceremonies were concerned with the worship of the Roman deities or with that of Mithraism. “The invincible savior,” as Mithra was called, had become, at the time when Tertullian and Origen wrote, the special deity of soldiers. Shrines in honor of Mithra were erected through the entire breadth of the Roman empire, from Dacia and Pannonia, to the Cheviot Hills in Britain. And woe to the soldier who refused compliance with the religious sacrifices to which the legions gave their adhesion! The Christians in the Roman legions formed no inconsiderable proportion of “the noble army of martyrs,” it being easier for the persecuting authorities to detect a Christian in the ranks of the army than elsewhere.
“The Third Race:” The strange title, “the third race,” probably invented by the heathen, but willingly accepted by the Christians without demur, showed with what a bitter spirit the heathen regarded the faith of Christ. “The first race” was indifferently called the Roman, Greek, or Gentile. “The second race” was the Jews; while “the third race” was the Christian, who were called by God a new creation, (a new spiritual species), 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15. The cry in the circus of Carthage was “Usque quo genus tertium?” That is, “How long must we endure this third race?”
Tertullian’s Apology: Tertullian, in an oftentimes quoted passage in his “Apology,” writes, “We live beside you in the world, making use of the same forum, market, bath, shop, inn, and all other places of trade. We sail with you, fight shoulder to shoulder, till the soil, and traffic with you;” yet the very existence of Christian faith, and its profession, continued to bring the greatest risks. “With the best will in the world, they remained a peculiar people, who must be prepared at any moment to meet the storm of hatred” (Workman, 189). For them, it remained true that in one way or another, hatred on the part of the world inevitably fell to the lot of those who walked in the footsteps of the Master; “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim 3:12.
The Edict of Milan: The persecution of the Christian church by the empire of Rome came to an end in March, 313 AD, when Constantine issued the document known as the “Edict of Milan,” which assured to each individual freedom of religious belief. This document marks an era of the utmost importance in the history of the world. Official Roman persecution had done its worst, and had failed; it was ended now; the Galilean had conquered. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.)
Persecutions are Part of Satan’s Cosmic System:
The anti-Christian principles of the world’s system clearly clash with the values and morality of God-fearing Christians. As evil men and wickedness increase, persecution will not lessen but will come to a climax during the reign of the Antichrist. The Book of Revelation foretells in some detail the persecutions which are yet to come.
The Failure of Persecutions:
Even though there were tremendous persecutions against the believers of the Church in its first 300 years, instead of abolishing the name of Christ, as the persecutors vainly imagined they had succeeded in doing, it actually became a catalyst for the growth of the Body of Christ. Those who sought to exterminate Christians and eradicate Christianity were unwittingly advancing the message of Christ.
Satan’s efforts to destroy the church by violence were a failure, because Jesus had warned his disciples ahead of time, and they chose to believe the words of their Master. As Christ’s faithful were slain and fell at their posts, others sprang up to take their place. By seemingly individual defeat, the Christian movement conquered. God’s workmen were slain, but His work went steadily forward. The gospel continued to spread, and the numbers of its adherents continued to increase. With the Edict of Milan, as noted above, what was once cruelly persecuted by the Roman Empire, actually became the standard for religious worship in the previously pagan Empire. Satan’s attack had failed.
How did this occur? By the witness of each individual who suffered under these persecutions. The witness of their words and lives spoke volumes to their persecutors and those who witnessed their persecutions. For example, Paul and Silas had this impact during their persecution and deliverance at Philippi in Acts 16:16-34.
The sufferings which the Christians endured brought them closer to one another and to Christ. Their living example and dying testimony were a constant witness to the truth. Even many of the followers of Satan were leaving their service to him and began enlisting under the banner of Christ.
Persecution Should Not Cause the Disciple of Christ to Lose Courage:
Having the great example of the early Church with the triumph their persecutions brought about in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world, should give us today great courage and commitment to continue fighting the good fight of faith, Rom 15:4.
Rom 15:4, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
We must never under estimate the impact we have when preserving through undeserved suffering for blessing.
We must also have the attitude which was in Christ Jesus and the martyrs of the early Church; that our physical lives are but a small price to pay for the gift of eternal life for another.
That is the mental attitude of the disciple who is able to fulfill John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Paul had this mental attitude, 2 Tim 2:10, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”
The Bible teaches that persecution should not cause the disciple of Christ to lose courage. It is not a thing to be feared or to be incessantly worried about.
As we have seen in our study of the various persecutions, the early Church endured, patient endurance in times of persecution is in fact the proof of genuine discipleship.
- Moses, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” Heb 11:25.
- Timothy was exhorted to, “be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Tim 4:5.
Persecution is a test of true discipleship:
- Those whose commitment to Christ is shallow will falter when persecution arises, Mat 13:20-21.
Mat 13:20-21, “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; 21yet 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.”
- Yet those who endure persecution show their true faith in Christ and their spiritual relationship with past heroes of the faith, Mat 5:12; 2 Thes 1:4-5.
Mat 5:12, “Rejoice and be glad, …. for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
2 Thes 1:4-5, “Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.”
- Those that persevere through undeserved suffering will have tremendous Divine Good production to show for it, Mat 13:23.
Mat 13:23, “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
- As a result, your good of intrinsic value will have a great return with rich blessings for time and eternal rewards, Mat 5:10-12a; 2 Tim 2:12.
Mat 5:10-12a, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”
2 Tim 2:12, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him.”
- Therefore, you should not fear persecution but persevere under persecution, even to the point of praying for those who bring persecution against you, Mat 5:44-48; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59.
As Jesus said in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
As Stephen said in Acts 7:59, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”
R.B. Thieme stated, “Billions and billions of years ago in eternity past, God knew about every need believers would have at every stage of this intensified conflict. He knew we would live in a very difficult period of our own national history, as well as in the spiritual history of mankind. He knew about the dramatic rise of Communism with its anti-doctrinal aspects. He knew about the internal disintegration of our nation through drugs, the rise of theological liberalism, and the failure to recognize Divine laws relative to police and military activities; He knew that confusion with regard to the gospel would result from the Satanic utilization of those who choose ecstatic and emotional criteria rather than Bible doctrine as their modus operandi. Furthermore, He knew that, as individuals’, we would have to face national crises, personal crises, and local church crises, and that we would encounter an accumulation of pressures at any point where His Word might be revealed. Accordingly, God’s provision for every believer in this Dispensation of the Church is phenomenal.”
Persecution made Christ very near and very precious to those who suffered. Many of the martyrs bore witness, even when in the midst of the cruelest torments, that they felt no pain, but that Christ was with them. Instances to this effect could be multiplied.
Persecution made them feel how true Christ’s words were, that even as He was not of the world, so they also were not of it. If they had been of the world, the world would love its own, but because Christ had chosen them out of the world; therefore, the world hated them. They were not greater than their Lord. If men had persecuted Jesus, they would also persecute His true disciples. But though they were persecuted, they were of good cheer, Christ had overcome the world; He was with them; He enabled them to be faithful unto death. He had promised them the crown of life. And He does the same for you and me today when we patiently endure to the end!