My dear brother,
Jesus as the Example
Jesus, born human, temple-taught, baptized in Holy Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, on a mission, advancing the kingdom, and calling man to return to God’s Justice– this man was betrayed by his friend, abandoned by his followers, beaten, mocked, accused of evil, struck with rods, whipped near to death, un-protected by the justice of man, driven, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, and hung there in agony upon agony for hours, until he gave up his spirit and died. All of this and more is what I mean by persecution. When he did however, he showed how to respond to our persecutors: Trust in God, and Forgive your persecutors.
– – Paul told Timothy, his true child in the faith, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He could say this with assurance because of what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-21:
“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.”
We know that this is the road on which all Christians are heading. It is why we are carrying a cross on our back, so that our persecutors won’t need to find a cross to do away with us.
According to the unsealed scroll of the Lamb in Revelation, beautifully demonstrated in the Bible Project’s first Read Scripture video on Revelation, the persecution of Christians, and the vindication of them by God is the one thing that brings the nations to repentance. God’s judgment alone does not bring about repentance, but further hardens people’s hearts in rebellion against God. It is when people see the saints imitating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross that they see the character of God and are either damned or redeemed. This is the message of the cross that is so offensive to the world, and so saving to those of us who know Him.
Jesus knew humanity better than anyone else, and he knew the Scriptures give insight into humanity better than anything else, and because of this, he knew persecution was inevitable. And so, he called the believer to be equipped for it. “If anyone seeks to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” So often you have heard people talk about denying themselves and picking up their cross, but really few Christians in our circles do. This means a lot more than going through a hard time.
Some Problematic Ideologies
I have heard some believers say this to me, and some might even be saying it in their heads now as they read: “I knew it! The only way the church can be woken up is to be persecuted. We need some persecution in order for there to be a revival.” This is wrongly ordered. The Church does NOT need to be persecuted to be awakened. The church needs to be awakened in order to be persecuted. How’s that for a motivation for Revival Church meetings? Do you want another Pentecost now?
Many other Christians have come to faith being told that Jesus went to the cross so that they don’t have to. A gross misinformation. I hope you were not brought to Christ with that non-sense bargain. Jesus went to the cross to show how much God loved you, and show you how much to love your neighbor. If you’re not ready to give your life (either by living or by dying) for your friend, can you rightly say that Christ is living in you? “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” ~Romans 8
Many Christians cannot bear the thought of this stage, because they have not passed the other stages. They are already fallen into pitfalls content to merely pursue spirituality, or stay babes in tradition, or use their regeneration as license to sin, or compromise with the Evil One, or seek the approval of men, or do all for a worldly end, or appease the evil rulers who wish to shut them up. But for those who will do none of these things, persecution is the only way that the world can shut up the truth– by killing the messenger.
And finally there are those who may mistake this exhortation for a call to seek out persecution. Nope. Jesus in Matthew 10 instructs his disciples,
“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.”
Jesus avoided people who were trying to kill him until his time had come, but when it came, he showed us how we are to behave in this stage.
As you would face persecution I would encourage you to read and reread 1 Peter, and Matthew 10 gives all the instructions needed, especially vs 16-32, but there are more applications fruitful to consider in light of other passages.
Application and Pitfall
- Arm yourself with this purpose: to suffer for Christ. Keep yourself ready at any moment to be given up as an offering to God, by denying yourself and daily laying everything down. Peter exhorts the church in 1 Peter 4:1-2 to do the same. “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”~1 Peter 4:1-2.
- Don’t die til Golgotha. Jesus had a specific place and time to give his life. So, I tell you, don’t lay it down sooner than the place God has for you. Jesus eluded people’s grasp when they tried to seize him. (John 10:39)
- Entrust yourself to God. Peter wrote of Jesus that “while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. “1 Peter 2:23. Dear Christian brother, this will be your ultimate test of faith. Trust Him. He is good, and there is more going on than you can see.
- Avoid the pitfall of Apostasy. Do not deny Christ when your life is on the line. Remember what Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22. Do not think you have suffered enough. Jesus suffered to the end. Don’t give up. There is more of his love to show that the persecutors need to see. When you have no more love, remember that it is God’s love that is your reservoir. He will give you what you need.
- Forgive your persecutors. Jesus didn’t just tell us to forgive others, he showed us at the darkest moment of his life what it means to forgive others. On the Cross, he cried out, “Father forgive them. They known not what they do.” Stephen when he was stoned, said, “Lord do not count this sin against them.” This is supernatural love.
- Testify. If you have a chance to share the gospel with your persecutors before you give your life, let the Holy Spirit bring the words that they need to hear.
- Rejoice! In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there are recorded the brightest flashes of holy joy on the faces of those who paid the ultimate price as Jesus did. Do not be afraid. You are entering into the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ! Rejoice! The world will see Heaven’s reflection on your face, just like Stephen’s!
Final Thought: There are countless brothers and sisters being persecuted right now. These brothers and sisters make up the body of Christ. With real blood they are suffering real pain. And when people forget how much God loves them, the persecuted and the martyrs remind us: Jesus’s body still bleeds for the world.