Anyone who was present when I taught a class on the Book of Revelation knows that Jesus had a favorite phrase that He used about the Christian and the end of time! That phrase which is used in both Gospels of Matthew and Mark gives hope but also predicts the coming persecution. “It is he who stands firm to the end that will be saved.” The hope is that “salvation” is coming. The fear is that to stand firm means that something or someone will assail us. The reality of Christ’s words is that whoever is a Christian should anticipate persecution!
The hatred and affliction that follows the witness and holy life of God’s people is the persecution that we will face in this world. Jesus reminded us that God’s prophets always faced persecution. Jesus Himself was persecuted. Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Roman opposition to Christianity also developed gradually. The Book of Acts emphasized Roman tolerance for the new religion. But this began to change with the Jewish riots against Christians in Rome, Emperor Claudius banned both groups from Rome in A. D. 49. This set the stage for the intense opposition of later years that allowed Nero to make Christians the scapegoats for the fire which leveled Rome in A. D. 64.
During this persecution all the apostles were martyred. It was this early persecution that caused Christianity to spread. It is like the principle of thermodynamics: “The greater the heat, the greater the expansion.” Rev 6:9 John in heaven wrote, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.
In the early church, two ideas were taken over from Judaism to express the meaning of persecution. The Jewish theologians taught that the death of the righteous sufferer had redemptive value. While this idea was applied primarily to Jesus by the early Christians, the persecution of His followers was seen as a participation in Jesus’ suffering: The idea of the coming Messiah held that the suffering of God’s people was part of the coming of the kingdom– evidence that a person is truly one of God’s own. Therefore they are “blessed” and should “rejoice” and “glorify God” since “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God”.
Little do we realize that when we accept Jesus, we accept the consequences of persecution. In the last decade, Amnesty International has documented human rights abuses against religious leaders, believers and activists in almost every region of the world including… Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, Greece, Cuba, Guatemala, Nambia, Nepal, Panama, Turkey, South Africa, and the Soviet Union.” It is reported that, “There are approximately 300,000 Christian martyrs a year around the world and that number is going up.” In fact, “There are more Christians being killed today than there were 2,000 years ago.” “The twentieth century was undoubtedly the BLOODIEST CENTURY that Christianity has ever experienced in terms of total martyrs.” An estimated 100 million Christians have been martyred in this century. That’s more than the previous nineteen centuries combined.
In Belgium, there was a Nazi prison camp called Breendonk. Inside this camp, many Belgian citizens suffered and died during the Second World War. Breendonk wasn’t a Jewish camp, but a Christian camp. How did some of these people endure the atrocities — the anxiety, fear, worry, and injustice of this place? A guide takes the visitors to an small, isolated cell. In a remote corner of this cell, there is a little slit in the stone wall. The only way to reach this corner and this little slit in the wall is to crawl under some high benches. The guide then places the visitor’s hand onto this portion of the stone wall. The guide then instructs the visitor, “Run your hand over what you feel.” The visitor responds, “I feel a carving of a face.” “You are feeling the face of our Savior Jesus Christ.” the guide confirms. In the darkest hour of hopelessness, these men and women would come to the corner of this cell and put their hands on his holy and loving face. This practice sustained them and assured them victory over their fears. This was their way of remembering that they were not alone.
Many Christians are hurt by even the slightest test of their faith. Yet God often uses attacks and slurs on one’s faith to strengthen it. Only when the grape is squeezed can it produce wine. Only when the grain is crushed can it rise as bread.
A path without obstacles probably leads nowhere.
There was an evangelist who loved to hunt. The man bought two pups that were top notch bird dogs, two setters. He kept them in his large backyard, where he trained them. One morning, an ornery little bulldog came shuffling and snorting down the alley. He crawled under the fence into the backyard where the setters spent their days. It was easy to see he meant business. The evangelist’s first impulse was to take his setters and lock them in the basement so they wouldn’t tear up that little bulldog. But he decided he would just let the creature learn a lesson he would never forget. Naturally, they got into a scuffle in the backyard, and those two setters and that bulldog went round and round and round! The little critter finally had enough, so he squeezed under the fence and took off. All the rest of that day he whined and licked his sores. Interestingly, the next day at about the same time, here came that same ornery little bulldog . . . back under the fence and after those setters. Once again those two bird dogs beat the stuffing out of that bowlegged animal and would have chewed him up if he hadn’t retreated down the alley. Would you believe, the very next day he was back! Once again, after the bulldog had had all he could take, he crawled back under the fence and found his way home to lick his wounds. “Well,” the evangelist said, “I had to leave for a revival meeting. He never missed a day! And I want you to know it has come to the point that when our setters simply hear that bulldog snorting down the alley and spot him squeezing under the fence, they immediately start whining and run down into our basement. That little old bulldog struts around our backyard now just like he owns it.” That is persistence and determination. Staying at it. Hanging tough with dogged discipline. When you get whipped or when you win, the secret is staying at it.