“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).
There is a piece of history that is important to the Christian community, but is little known. There was an event that took place in the month of March, in the year 1830, in Scotland. A sickly teenage girl by the name of Margaret MacDonald had a vision that for some reason God’s people would not have to suffer great tribulation. According to Miss MacDonald, prior to any great tribulation period, the Lord would come to deliver His people. A pastor by the name of John Darby, associated with the Plymouth Brethren movement in England, heard about the vision, and incorporated it into a new prophetic scheme that was capturing the imagination of the people.
People were afraid of the future. People were being taught to be afraid of the future. Many of the prophetic teachers and their followers would go to a nice resort around Niagara Falls to hold Bible conferences, and meditate on the blood, carnage, and destruction that they believed would be rained down upon others following the “snatching away” of the Church into heaven.
Today, people are still being scared by such prophetic teachers. The only comfort that was offered a hundred years ago, and the only comfort that is being offered today by those who see great cataclysmic events ahead, is that the Christian community will not have to suffer. Much could be said about the erroneous doctrines of the nineteenth and twentieth century, but the words of Christ counter all of the false teaching. Jesus did not teach that people would escape tribulation. Jesus did teach, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake.”
Let me state it as plainly as possible. The Bible teaches no escape from the trials and tribulations of life for the people of God. Consider four lines of evidence that Christians shall know great pressure, and persecution, during their pilgrimage on this earth.
First, there are the words of Jesus. In Matthew 24:9 Jesus told His disciples, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Jesus taught that His disciples are not above the Master. If the world hated Christ, and it did, if the world killed Christ, and it did, if the world afflicted Christ, and it did, then so shall the world treat His followers. Jesus has prepared the hearts of His disciples for the coming hostility in the Devil’s world.
There is a second line of evidence that Christians shall not escape tribulation. Notice the comments of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 14:22 we read that when Paul visited the Churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, he went to the churches,” Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Paul was a realist. The leaders of Rome were against the church, and he knew it. In particular there was Nero. Nero, a man with light blue eyes, thick neck, protruding stomach, and spindly legs, was a crazed and cruel emperor, a pleasure driven-man who ruled the world by whim and fear (Mark Galli).
When the city of Rome began to burn, the rumors persisted that Nero had sung his own poem “The Sack of Troy.” Nero tried to blame the fire on the city’s small Christian community, and so he burned many Christians alive as punishment. Paul knew that Nero was a mad man, and would hurt the people of God, and hurt them he did. Even Peter and Paul were eventually put to death by Nero. Paul knew it would happen, and during his life, like the Lord, he prepared the church for great tribulation.
Consider a third argument that Christians shall always know tribulation until the return of Christ. There is the testimony of time. All of the Apostles except John, suffered violent deaths because of their loyalty to Christ. The early church produced many martyrs, like Ignatius, who became bishop of the church in Antioch only about 20 years after Paul received his missionary call there. Escorted to his death by ten Roman soldiers, Ignatius said, “I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.”
In AD 165, Justin, and six of his friends, were executed for the cause of Christ. “You can kill us,” he wrote the emperor, “but not hurt us.”
All across the Roman Empire the disciples of Christ suffered persecution for righteousness sake. The blood drops of the martyrs became the fertile seed of the church from which sprang much faith and spiritual fruit. The people of God faced persecution with great courage. They did not go to their deaths as sheep to a slaughter, but as more than conquerors for Christ. Dr. William Bixler argues that, The martyr’s nonviolent response to trial and torture was never equated with passivity or resignation. For the early church, the act of martyrdom was a spiritual battle of epic proportion against the powers of hell itself.
The early martyrs found the courage to face tribulation, because they believed that if they suffered for Christ, they would reign with Him in the world to come. The church suffered because people believed that their faithfulness was a strategic part of Christ’s victory.
There is a fourth line of evidence that Christians will never escape periods of persecution until the return of Jesus, and that is the evidence of today. Many have heard about the ministry of Brother Andrew and Open Door Ministries. Many years ago he began to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. Today, the evil empire is broken up and the gospel is eagerly sought. Prior to 1989, Brother Andrew argued that the church of the twentieth century has known more martyrs for Christ than at any other time in human history. He said he ministered to the suffering church.
There are pockets of persecution even here in America. In the 1980’s, a pastor in Nebraska, by the name of Evert Siliven, went to jail in defense of his Christian school. The state said he had to have a license or close the school. He did not get a license, and he did not close the school. The
police came and literally dragged the pastor out of the church in handcuffs, and put him in jail. He suffered for righteousness sake.
Before his death in an airplane crash on November 2, 1982, Lester Roloff went to jail in Houston, Texas, in defense of his home for troubled boys and girls. I remember listening to him preach from the jail cell in which he was kept. He suffered for righteousness sake.
The pockets of persecution in America are not many, at the moment, but with the passage of time the church in America will come under more and more persecution in as far as it begins to vigorously protest the practices and policies of evil.
It may very well be that the church is at peace with the world in America because, in part, the church has lost her prophetic voice calling the nation to repentance. Dr. William Hendriksen notes, “When the faith of God’s children has developed sufficiently to be outwardly manifested so that those who do not share it with them begin to take notice, persecution results.”
The persecution may be physical. During World War II the Lutheran and Catholic Church of Germany finally began to protest the policies of the Nazi regime. Many pastors were arrested, and put into prison, and concentration camps. The power of their voice in the pulpits calling for Christian ethics became a threat to the Nazi party.
The persecution may be the verbal abuse of insults, or falsehoods. When such times of tribulation comes it must not be thought that God is angry, or has left His people. Rather, it is time for rejoicing. “Be exceeding glad,” said Jesus “for great is your reward in heaven.”
The joy that is found in suffering for Christ is not a joy in the pain itself. The joy comes by knowing that one is indeed a Christian. The joy comes by knowing that there is an eternal home in heaven. The Christian is not to retaliate. The Christian is not to try to get even. The Christian is not to harbor feelings of bitterness or resentment. Nor is the Christian to become depressed. There is to be cultivated an attitude of rejoicing, and there can be rejoicing in the midst of the persecution, but it takes effort to think this thing through. It takes God’s grace.
There are rewards for the faithful who do not abandon Christ in the midst of persecution. The rewards of the righteous include unmixed joy, and glory, and holiness, and purity, and wonder! (Dr. M. Lloyd- Jones)
In the days and years to come, you and I will be persecuted for righteousness sake. Some of us know already what it is to have sleepless nights, mental anguish, and soul despair because of the evil that men do. The proper response that Jesus wants us to have is here stated. It is the will of the Lord that when tribulation comes we rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great will be our reward in heaven.
We can ask the Lord to prepare our hearts for His great work in us and our great work in the world, until the day of our final departure. We want to be found faithful. We want to be able to rejoice in the midst of our tribulations. We want to receive the rewards of eternity. We want to be like Christ, who did not forsake us when His time of tribulation came. He endured the Cross, and so shall we.