A Brief Biblical History Of Persecution

There are maybe no more troubling passages of Scripture than those that promise us persecution. I am not talking about what Americans consider persecution. I mean biblical persecution, the raw, guttural, gritty “they hate us for the sake of righteousness” type of persecution.

In numerous places in the Gospels Christ promises us that we will face persecution. Paul, the most prolific writer in the New Testament, speaks about his persecution for the sake of the Gospel in man of the letters he wrote. Additionally, Peter talks about persecution at the hands of the world several times. 

Furthermore, Hebrews speaks about persecution in the days of the prophets. The author of that book describes it in great detail, leaving little to the imagination. Stephen is introduced to us as the first Christian martyr in Acts. Having gone to the synagogue in Jerusalem and proclaimed Christ as the Messiah and calling his fellow Jews to repentance, they grow angry with him. Yet, their anger isn’t to be easily settled. They carry Stephen away and stone him. The death blow coming with the aforementioned Paul (aka Saul) looking on in approval.

Throughout the totality of Scripture, we are given account after account of God’s people facing persecution. God is intentionally communicating something to us by recording these accounts. Moreover, He was establishing a truth that should be self-evident for us as believers today.

A Brief Church History of Persecution

Soon after the Church started to grow in numbers and spread geographically her people were faced with hostile resistance. History records that some of the worst atrocities were committed by the Roman Emperors. Early Christians were covered in pitch, staked to city walls in Rome. They were then lit on fire to serve as light for the Roman citizens as they walked the streets. Christians were often thrown into the arenas around the Roman empire to be fed to wild animals for entertainment. Furthermore, entire families were sent into the gladiatorial rings to be executed as tributes to the Emperor or local governors.

Make no mistake persecution wasn’t the tool of just the Romans. Jewish leaders persecuted the early Church as well. James was taken to the pinnacle of the temple and thrown to his death. When the fall managed to break his body but not kill him, they crushed his head with a large rock.

Yet, that wasn’t all. The Roman Catholic hierarchy persecuted any person who refused to comply with their dogmas. The Huguenots, in France, were hunted down and murdered in the thousands. Early Presbyterians in Scotland were persecuted without mercy. Entire families were burned alive. The reign of terror in England was so bad Queen Mary was referred to as Bloody Mary. Her name haunts legend and lore to this day.

In the modern era we have seen millions of Christians hunted down and imprisoned by communist regimes all over the world. China, The Soviet Union and many other nations have executed people for the mere crime of possessing a Bible.

The history is out there for all of us to read. Just pick up one of several books. Foxes’ Book of Martyrs. The Martyrs Mirror. Open Doors keeps track of the worst modern offenders.

Persecution According To Jesus

So, what does Christ tell us will be the cause of our persecution or martyrdom? Will it be the fact that we live outwardly moral lives? Could it be due to how kind we are to our neighbors? The answer to the last two questions is an emphatic no. Moreover, Jesus makes some very stark prophecies about persecution and what causes it.

One of the earliest looks at persecution that we get in the New Testament is in Matthew Chapter 5. But right now, you are saying “Hold on there Todd. That’s the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Where does Christ talk about persecution?

Some of you may already know this, but for the sake of argument I will elaborate. Jesus goes through all of the blest are you statements and then wraps them up with a strange statement. “Blest are you if you are persecuted for my names sake and for righteousness sake. When men say all matter of evil things against you.”

“Hold on Jesus, what could you possibly be saying?”

Polycarp of Smyrna:
Burned at the stake in 156 AD for his refusal to cease proclaiming Christ.

Here was the end point of the Beatitudes and the start of the Sermon. Jesus has gone through and established what righteousness is to look like. He makes some powerful statements. You are blest for mourning over sin. Blest for being meek. Moreover, you are blest for being a peacemaker.

How on earth do things that are signs of righteousness lead to being persecuted for the sake of that same righteousness? Furthermore, does being persecuted for being a peacemaker make any sense at all?

What is pivotal to understanding the persecution that comes for the sake of righteousness is understood in the proper comprehension of peacemaker. Jesus wasn’t talking about keeping peace between people. He was talking about bringing peace between God and mankind.

Persecution And Righteousness

When Jesus pronounced that peacemakers are blest He was not talking about Nobel Prize winners. Moreover, His emphasis on being peacemakers

Nobel Peace Prize, really?

comes later in Matthew 5 when He begins to exposit the law.

Christ is telling His disciples and others gathered around that the true way to make peace is to preach the Gospel. Therefore, that is why He goes on to expose heart conditions that lead to adultery and murder in the heart. He is demonstrating for His disciples what it takes to bring people to peace with God. They must have their sin exposed to understand that they are not at peace with God.

Furthermore, Jesus goes on throughout all of the Gospel accounts to talk to people about their sin. The pattern repeats itself inexorably. The woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. The rich young ruler and the parable of the wicked servants. On and on HE goes exposing sin.

Jesus is laying a groundwork for what it means to be a peacemaker. “You must expose their sin,” He seems to be telling His followers, “You need to cut to the heart and then cut out the cancer that is there.”

Additionally, we see how the world reacts to this from Christ’s very own words in John 3. He makes it clear that the unbelieving person is full of wickedness. They are wretched vile beasts that hate the light. They flee from it.

The powerful burning light of the Gospel exposes their wicked deeds; causes revulsion to rise up in them. Furthermore, when people are confronted with the light of the Gospel they rise up in anger. That was Christ’s prophetic promise when He spoke those words, ‘Blest are you when for my name’s sake.”

When It Isn’t Persecution

This may be the shortest section to read. Don’t be a jerk or act asinine. Period. End of story.

Moreover, I wish that some people would realize this as well. Scripture teaches us that as much as is possible WITHIN US, we are to be at peace with all mankind. Moreover, Scripture goes on to tell us that it is the Gospel that is an offense, and it best no be our conduct.

I am going to include several links to videos that demonstrate the way conduct offends over and above the Gospel. Pay close attention to the conduct of these charlatans. Ask yourself, is this the Gospel causing an offense or are these folks just being asinine?

In this video you see Ruben Israel and his crew carrying pig heads on poles and then being “persecuted”.

Here a “preacher” calls a Muslim man a filthy pig and uses other insulting language and when the “Christians” are attacked they actually fight back. This isn’t persecution; it’s asinine behavior.

Here is an example of another person being asinine in preaching. There is no Gospel presentation and no compassion. This isn’t Christ-like it is appealing to the flesh of the preacher. Even though there is much truth to the words of the preacher and the churches he is preaching in-front of is woefully wrong, this is not preaching the truth in love.

Persecution In The USA

At this point in history many Christians may never face the kind of persecution others around the world are facing. To some degree we are fortunate to have Constitutional protections from government interference.

Furthermore, public evangelism is relatively safe because we still see sound preachers out preaching the Gospel in hostile places. If persecution of Christians was at the levels of other countries all the sound evangelists would be dead or in prison.

Yet there is still persecution taking place. However, it is not nearly as virulent as it could be. Christian bakeries are facing fines for standing firm on their convictions. Christian men have been charged with crimes for preaching at abortion mills and gay-pride events.

I have personally had law enforcement called on me too many times to count. The world likes to use LEOs as their tool to silence the preaching of the Gospel. Fortunately, I have been blest to deal with constitutionally reliable officers in each and every case.

My persecution has also risen to new levels as of late. Thankfully they were minor assaults. All the same, those incidences are indicative of a growing hostility toward public proclamation of the Gospel.

Furthermore, just today, before I wrote this, (the article was already brewing in my head for other reasons) I had a man approach me (4 minute mark) as I was merely reading John 3 out loud in public. He confronted me with clear anger. He questioned my right to read the Bible in public and called me a choice name or two.

Also recently I had a college administrator try to kick me off campus for handing out Biggest Question DVDs.

Make no mistake, persecution is on the rise…

Persecution: Are You Seeing Any

I want to ask you now, are you seeing any personal persecution for the cause of being a peacemaker? I do not care what the context of your Gospel work may be. However, is your faithfulness to the advancement of the Gospel leading to your persecution.

Are there instances of friends abandoning you? Have you experienced slander and lying about your character for being faithful to proclaim the Gospel to friends and family members. My dear wife has seen a chilling in several of her familial relationships for her unrelenting pursuit of godly standards. Moreover, in one case an uncle attacked my character for using the event of my grandfather’s funeral to proclaim Christ. He blamed many issues. However, when pressed, he confessed to me that it was my firmness on the exclusivity of Christ.

Look, I want to be real with you. I am not talking about heated conversations with friends and loved ones. That isn’t persecution. I am talking about genuine biblical examples of persecution. Have you been physically assaulted or slandered and libeled? Is there anyone in your close circle of friends that has reacted vitriolically over your insistence that they need Christ for the expiation of their sins.

I can’t answer these questions for you. Only you can.

Persecution The Final Thought

I am going to plead with you here, examine yourself and whatever form your evangelistic work takes. Get down to the deep introspective work that is sometimes healthy for us. Really ask yourself if your Gospel work is leading to persecution. Can you point to definitive events where you’ve experienced persecution?

I want to close with this account because it is personal to me. Several years ago, my now seventeen-year-old son was about eight or nine. He was sledding on a hill by a local Roman Catholic property. Ethan went sledding with several other young men.

These young men started to use coarse and profane language and it stung my son’s ears. He boldly took them through the law and told them about Christ as best as he could at such a young age. These young men turned on him immediately. Pelted him with sticks and snowballs and chased him off from the sledding hill.

To his credit, my son displayed more maturity and biblical manhood than most adult Christian men today. He came home clearly upset but without any anger. He was hurting for those young men. At that tender age my son faced physical persecution long before I ever did.

Moreover, that incident convicted me about my Gospel work. If he, at that young age, could be that bold, where was my boldness?

A Challenge

Therefore, I want you to think of that account and look at your own Gospel work…

Does anyone hate you for the sake of the Gospel? Or all of your relationships comfortable and without conflict?

You may not feel the need to tell me the truth, but God knows better than you do…

Soli Deo Gloria!