Persecution

“As he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.” – Galatians 4:29[1]

isaac ishmael abraham sarahIshmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar, a “bondwoman” or servant of Sarah (Genesis 16:15, Galatians 4:22-23). Isaac, however, was the promised son of Abraham and Sarah, a “freewoman” (Genesis 21:2-3, Galatians 4:22-23). How was Isaac persecuted? On the day he was weaned, Ishmael mocked and scoffed at him (Genesis 21:8-9). So Sarah told Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for [he] shall not be heir with my son” (21:10).

Ishmael’s mockery isn’t the only biblical example of persecution. Cain killed his brother Abel after God rejected his offering (Genesis 4:3-8). Jacob fled from his brother Esau after taking his birthright and blessing (27:41-28:5). After hating, envying, and “conspiring against him to kill him,” Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave in Egypt for his prophetic dreams (37:4-28). Aaron and Miriam questioned Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12:1-2). So did Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 leaders (16:1-3). A jealous King Saul chased and tried to kill David (1 Samuel 18-24, 26). After fleeing from Queen Jezebel, Elijah told God that “the children of Israel have … killed your prophets with the sword” (1 Kings 19:1-3, 10, 14). King Ahab imprisoned Micaiah for prophesying his death (22:19-27). Joash hid from Queen Athaliah after she killed his siblings (2 Kings 11:1-3). Jeremiah was imprisoned for prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction (chap. 20). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace for refusing to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Daniel 3:12-21). Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den for praying (6:16-17). Nehemiah faced opposition while rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls (chaps. 2, 4, 6). Others were “tortured,” mocked, scourged, imprisoned, “stoned,” “sawn in two,” or “slain with the sword” as they “wandered about … destitute, afflicted, [and] tormented” (Hebrews 12:35-37).

Persecution of righteous believers only increased with the advent of Jesus Christ. King Herod tried to kill him while he was still a baby (Matthew 2:13-16). Jesus later endured unbelief and ridicule from Pharisees, Sadducees, and his own family before he was crucified. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded after accusing King Herod of adultery (14:1-11). After Jesus’ ascension, the apostles were often imprisoned for preaching; Stephen and James were killed (Acts 4-5, 7, 12, 14, 21, 23). Before his conversion, Paul harassed and arrested believers (9:1-2, 22:4-5, 26:10-12). He later endured prison, beatings, stoning, and shipwreck for the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Persecution didn’t end with the closure of the canon. In the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, believers were eaten by hungry lions in Roman coliseums. John Wycliffe (1330-1384) was charged with blasphemy and, after his death, branded a heretic. William Tyndale (1494-1536) was burned at the stake for printing the Bible in English. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was tried by church leaders for his doctrine. Separatists fled England for America, while Puritans like John Bunyan (1628-1688) were imprisoned. Switzerland and the Netherlands became safe havens for persecuted believers.

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” – John 15:18-20

the-persecuted-churchLike Isaac, we are “children of promise” (Galatians 4:28). But God hasn’t “cast out” sinners like Ishmael yet (Genesis 21:10). In the last century, millions of believers have been persecuted for Christ – harassed, fired, raped, tortured, or killed. So why do Americans Christians think persecution is an anomaly, while freedom of worship is our birthright? It may be listed in the Bill of Rights, the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but unbelievers don’t care about rights. If they hate Jesus Christ, then they also hate his followers (John 15:18-20). People “born according to the flesh” always persecute those “born according to the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29). Believers always “suffer for righteousness’ sake” (1 Peter 3:14). “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” which knows no geographical boundaries (2 Timothy 3:12). In a world ruled by Satan, believers are reviled, defamed, and treated as filth (1 Corinthians 4:12-13).

Sometimes God rescues his servants from persecution. He plagued Egypt, killed Pharaoh’s firstborn son, and destroyed his army in the Red Sea. Later, God struck Miriam with leprosy, killed Korah and his family in an earthquake, and killed the 250 leaders with fire. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were spared a fiery death, Daniel was spared from hungry lions, Peter was rescued from prison by an angel, and Paul and Silas were rescued from prison by an earthquake. Yet Abel, Isaiah, James, Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Zechariah were all still murdered.

“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, those who are mistreated.” – Hebrews 13:3

How should we respond to persecution? If we’re reviled and spoken against falsely for Christ’s sake, then we’re “blessed” (Matthew 5:11). We will inherit the kingdom of heaven, so we should “rejoice” (5:10, 12). Instead of returning “an eye for an eye,” we should bless, endure, entreat, love, and pray for sinners (5:38, 44; 1 Corinthians 4:12-13). Only then will we be perfect like our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48). He’ll never leave or forsake us (2 Corinthians 4:9, Hebrews 13:6).

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[1] New King James Version (NKJV), unless otherwise noted

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