With constant reminders of Christian persecution, one may think that God is not watching or is unconcerned. One may find oneself asking as the prophet Habakkuk inquired, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he” (Habakkuk 1:13)? Is God unconcerned? Will God not take action? First of all, one must note that God is very concerned. However, it must also be noted that persecution was a known aspect of the believer’s life. In fact, it is part of the plan. This is not to say that God is pleased with persecution…heaven forbid!!! But rather, God knew that such persecution was going to take place. This is demonstrated in four ways.
The Persecution of the Prophets
People who make a stand for God have always been on the receiving end of persecution. The writer of Hebrews states, concerning the prophets, that “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:37-38). In 1 Kings 19:10 and in verse 14, the great prophet Elijah before being taken away addressed how people had killed the prophets and were seeking to take his own life. The prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 2:30, stated that the people’s “own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.” Jeremiah also noted that Uriah, a prophet and son of Shemiah was taken from Egypt by King Jehoiakim. King Jehoiakim “struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people” (Jeremiah 26:20-23). Thus, the prophets of God suffered persecution.
The Persecution of the Messiah
The Son of God Himself suffered persecution. John the apostle noted of Christ that “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13). Jesus was allowed to die in order to provide salvation for all by dying on the cross. In fact, Jesus warned from the beginning that there was a cost in following him. Since, there is an enemy who stands opposed to the grace and truth of God (i.e. Satan); one can expect to be persecuted. Jesus said bluntly to all around him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself” (Luke 9:23-25). Clearly, Jesus warned that such persecution is to be expected. However, this is certainly not the end of the story as will be seen.
The Persecution of the Early Church
The early church would suffer great persecution. All the early apostles, except for John, died as a martyr. James, the brother of John, was the first apostle to die (Acts 12:2). Stephen also suffered martyrdom (Acts 7:54ff). Thus, persecution was part of the Christian life from the outset.
The Persecution of the End-time Christian
In the book of Revelation, John reports that “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers (or brothers and sisters) should be complete, who were killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:9-11). There are a couple of things that can be seen in this passage of Scripture. First, one can find that persecution is to be expected to exist, if not increase, as the end of this sphere of existence draws to a conclusion. However, something else is witnessed in this passage of Scripture that brings us to our final point. As four means were listed that describe the fact that God knew that persecution would take place, it must be remembered that the book of Revelation helps one understand that there is a result to this persecution.
The Results of Such Persecution
The book of Revelation demonstrates that God is not only concerned with persecution, God will eventually take action. When God does take action, it will come swift and will be INTENSE!!! Listen to the words of Revelation, “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.’ So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped…So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia (184 miles)” (Revelation 14:14-16, 19-20). God will take action. When God does, it will be intense and will be forthright.
The great preacher Jonathan Edwards preached a message entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” While Edwards’ message would not be accepted with great favor amongst many modern congregants, especially those who promote the health and wellness gospel; God used the message to bring several to faith. Why was this message so effective? It was effective because it helped people realize that God is not only a God of love, God is also a God of justice. Rest assured, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). God knows the evils of the world. But why the delay? The clear sense of Scripture is that God is giving individuals time to repent. Simon Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:9-10). The age of grace will not extend forever. In the popular words of the age, “God will bring it!” When it is brought, there will be no turning back. Thus, in the wise words of the prophet Amos, we must all “prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12)!
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