Affliction and Persecution – Sep-Oct 2015

persecution“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Psalms 34:19). This is a challenging verse! Throughout history, even in our day, many Christians have suffered afflictions and persecutions that ended in death. Jesus Himself was hanged on a tree. How can God promise to deliver the righteous out of all of their afflictions? What does this mean?

There have been many times where God miraculously intervened to deliver His people. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den, and God sent an angel to protect him. Daniel’s three friends, who refused to break God’s Law by bowing down to an idol (Exodus 20:4-6), were thrown into a fiery furnace. They had told the king, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18). These men were sure that whether or not they would die in the fire, they would be delivered from the king’s hand. Deliverance does not always mean the removal of difficulties. In this case, God miraculously delivered their physical lives, but what was more important to them was their eternal lives.

The temporary life we are living is not the end of our story. Even if this life ends abruptly, we have the promise of eternal life. Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Too often our eyes are fixed on the temporary life we are living now. Jesus encouraged us to look beyond that.

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Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Your eternal life is far more valuable than any convenience or temporary pleasure.

Internal Deliverance

Christianity is not about having everything in order so nothing goes wrong in your life. If you think being a Christian means that all of your hardships will go away, that all the stoplights will be green when you arrive, that you will always have enough money, you will never get a flat tire, etc., then you are in for a big surprise. Christianity is not about removing all of your difficulties, but about giving you an internal transformation to show God’s character through your difficulties. If you react to trouble the same way everyone else reacts, then what would make others want what you have? The world needs to see someone who can endure hardship and display a godly attitude at the same time.

Afflictions and persecution are God’s opportunities to show what a transformed life looks like in the midst of trials. Do not think that becoming a Christian will remove all of your problems. In fact, they may increase, but you will have amazing peace. The Bible says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). “…we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). With peace and comfort on the inside, the trials on the outside are much easier to deal with. This shows that you have something not of this world. Jesus said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15:19-21). Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).

May your prayers reflect your knowledge of God’s work in your life. Pray that God will grant you His Spirit to transform and deliver you on the inside, so that outwardly others will glorify God because they saw His character displayed in you through all of your troubles.

Blessings in Persecution

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). There is not a blessing in being persecuted for your sins (1 Peter 2:20; 3:17), but there is a blessing in being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:14, 15).

Jesus continued, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12). When we get the privilege of being persecuted for righteousness sake we are to rejoice. When Peter and the other apostles were brutally beaten for preaching Jesus, they went away “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). When God told Paul and Silas to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel, they were arrested, beaten, and fastened by stocks in prison. Instead of complaining, they “sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25). God opened the doors of the prison, and then used the situation to get the jailor and his whole family baptized that night. Your trials may be an avenue for God to bless others. Praise Him!

Paul explained, “…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3). Patience is a very important attribute for Jesus said, “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19). We are admonished to be “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Patience is developed by calmly enduring our tribulations. “…being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it” (1 Corinthians 4:12). “Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind… Beareth all things, …endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7). Not only are we blessed through being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, but all those who behold a loving attitude demonstrated in and through our experience will be blessed as well.

Eventually, God will triumphantly proclaim over us, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). These also “…loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).

Faithful Martyrs

The Bible proclaims that faithful martyrs “…were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:32-38). If you are persecuted, you are in good company; most of God’s faithful people in the past were also persecuted.

Don’t be a fair-weather Christian, for they will not be able to withstand the trials ahead. In speaking of these people, Jesus said, “…when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:21).

More Tribulation Coming

Jesus spoke of a time in the near future, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2). This is referring to the mark of the beast crisis soon to come upon the whole world (Revelation 13:16-18).

You may have been told that you do not need to worry about the tribulation because all Christians will mysteriously vanish in a secret rapture. Friends, this is a dangerous lie invented in the 1800s to trap people into thinking they do not need to be prepared for future persecution.

Jesus said specifically that if anyone tells you that Christ has come secretly we are not to believe it. “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:23-28).

He said that His coming would be as the lightening, filling the entire sky so that every eye shall see Him. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen” (Revelation 1:7). “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).

Jesus specifically warned us that there would arise false prophets who would seek to deceive His people on this very subject, and we can see His prophecy fulfilled today. Many false prophets are proclaiming that Christ will come secretly for His people. He said, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).

The “secret rapture” is based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus said in Matthew chapter twenty-four. Jesus prophesied, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24:40, 41). Many assume from these verses that Jesus was saying that there will be a day when the righteous will be taken to heaven and the wicked will be left here on the earth. However, look at the verses again, and you will see that Jesus did not say who would be taken, nor did He say where they would be taken.

In order to assume that the righteous are taken to heaven while the wicked are left to go through the tribulation, one would have to ignore the immediate context of Christ’s words. Jesus said, “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24:37-41).

Jesus used the story of Noah and the flood as a parallel to what would happen at the second coming of Christ. In Noah’s day the world was deeply involved in their worldly lives, oblivious to what was about to happen. Jesus said that when the flood came it took them all away. Who did the flood take away, was it the righteous or the wicked? Certainly! The flood took away the wicked in death. The only ones left were the eight righteous people on the ark. In the story of Noah’s ark, the wicked were taken in death, and the righteous were left alive. Immediately after telling this story Jesus said, “so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24:39-41).

The questions that must be asked are: Who will be taken? Who will be left? and, Where will the ones who will be taken go? From the immediate context all these questions have an obvious answer. At Christ’s second coming the wicked will be taken in death, and the righteous will be left standing alive.

Paul wrote, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). The ones who are left alive will be caught up to be with Christ.

Luke’s account of Christ’s conversation, where He said, “one shall be taken, and the other left,” leaves us in no doubt regarding what Jesus was talking about. Jesus said, “I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:34-37).

The disciples who heard Christ’s words wanted a clarification of what Christ was talking about, so they asked Him, “Where, Lord?” Were they asking, “Where will they be taken?” or “Where will they be left?” The answer is obvious, they could not be asking where will they be left, because Jesus had plainly told them that the one in a bed will be left in the bed, the one at the grinding mill will be left at the grinding mill, the one in the field will be left in the field. The disciples wanted to know where the ones taken would go. Jesus answered, “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles [vultures—ESV] be gathered together” (Luke 17:37). Here, Christ is saying that the ones taken will be taken in death, and their dead bodies will attract flesh-eating birds. We read about this in Revelation: “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great” (Revelation 19:17, 18).

Christ was not talking about a secret rapture when He said, “one shall be taken, and the other left.” In fact, if Christ had been referring to such a teaching He would have contradicted His own words that He spoke a few minutes earlier when He said that the Christians would be here during the tribulation. He said, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. 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. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:6-10, 13) I doubt anyone could have convinced a Christian in the World Trade Center on 9-11, or the Christians being murdered in the Middle East, that they would be secretly raptured before things got really bad. Nor would the true Christians during the Dark Ages, who were tortured to death, have believed such fables.

Persecution Cannot Separate Us

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:35, 37). The love of God and Christ is constant regardless of our circumstances. Do not let your circumstances convince you that God does not love you. If you allow this to happen, then your appreciation of God’s love will go up and down like a roller coaster. God loved Jesus when everything was going well for Him. He also loved Him when He was being nailed to the cross. God loved Joseph when he received a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3), He also loved him when he was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit (Genesis 39:20). God was able to use that situation to elevate Joseph to the second highest position in Egypt (Genesis 41:14-40). Please do not let your circumstances determine your conception of your acceptance with God. He may be using your tribulation to bring good into your life or the lives of others.

Throughout the hard times that will come, one thing is needful: we must have a strong connection with the Lord. During this time, “…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits [prevail]” (Daniel 11:32). Knowing that God is good and faithful despite our trials will help us tremendously. God is the One “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Your connection with God will be a help not only for yourself, but for your friends and family.

Conclusion

If you commit your life to serving the Lord, persecution is sure to come to you in one way or another. How you meet those situations could make or break you. Do not ask, “God, Why is this happening to me? I thought you loved me!” God does love you, and he wants to manifest Himself through you in the good times and the bad. Never think that your hardships are a sign that God does not care about you. Bad things happen to godly people, not because God doesn’t like them, but because He wants to reveal Himself through all of the experiences of our lives. He has promised that He “…will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). He has also promised, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

A key characteristic of those who are victorious at the end is that “…they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11). Their connection to God will be identified by the fact that they are not trying to save themselves, but rather to glorify God and be a blessing to others. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). This love cannot be generated, but only comes through the indwelling of Christ by His Spirit (Colossians 1:27). I pray that you will be ready to face any trials that may come your way, filled with internal peace. Invite Jesus to live in your heart, by faith, believe that He has accepted your invitation, and be amazed at how completely He transforms your life into the image of God.

  • Rebecca Sewell

    Thank you so much for this clear and Biblical study! It is a real encouragement. Bless you, Brother Beachy!