Persecution – a sure thing for Christians

     There are few absolutes in this chaotic world, but it is certain that Christians will experience persecution.  Once again we’ll see that the world’s majority are the persecutors while the kingdom minority is the persecuted.
     Inasmuch as New Testament persecution is directed towards Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the head of the church, the church (Christians) will likewise be the object of persecution.
     “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  John 15:20
     Paul confirmed that Christ’s followers would be the recipients of persecution.
     “…and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  2 Timothy 3:12
     The Greek for ‘persecution’ in the above passage is dioko.  The basic meaning of a persecutor is one who pursues another with repeated acts of enmity.  Additional synonyms include, distress, press, crush, against, and/or to follow after.  Persecution then, is ongoing, relentless, hostile activity.
     Persecution against the early church was poignantly illustrated by the activities of the Pharisee named Saul.  At the time of Stephen’s death, the church was experiencing great persecution.
     “At that time (of Stephan’s death) a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem…As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”  Acts 8:1, 3
     Saul was shortly thereafter confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus relative to his activities.
     “Then he (Saul) fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? …I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…’”  Acts 9:4-5
     As the story unfolds, Jesus revealed that the chief persecutor of the church would become the chief persecuted of the church.
     “…for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  Acts 9:15-16
     Saul was a ‘chosen vessel’ which means he and his mission was appointed before the foundation of the world.  His Hebrew name was subsequently changed to his Roman name, which is Paul, and we know the rest of the story.
    Saul persecuted Jesus and the church before meeting Him and the Father.  Jesus had forewarned His disciples that such would happen.
     “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  But these things I have told you that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”   John 16:2-4
     There were many then and there are many now in the church that have been deceived, i.e. they are not really the called of Christ.  Such will not endure persecution and their true identity will be revealed.
     Jesus taught the multitudes four different classifications of those who would hear about the kingdom of God.  The different groups were referred to as ‘soils.’  Some seeds (God’s word) would fall by the wayside, some would fall on stony places, and some would fall among thorns and some on good ground and would yield a crop.
     Of current interest in the context of persecution is the seed that fell on stony places.  Jesus later explained the meaning of the parable to His disciples.
     “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises…immediately he stumbles.”   Matthew 13:20-21
     Thus, of the four types of soils, the seed prospered in just one type, i.e. the ‘good ground.’   And remember, Jesus taught His disciples that the path leading to life was narrow while the path leading to destruction was wide.
     The Bible explicitly tells how the Christian is to deal with persecution, the rewards awaiting those who suffer inevitable persecution, and the punishment for the persecutors.
     More next week.
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