Kingdom Norms, Part Eight
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 20, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
Blessed Are The Persecuted
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).
How happy and blessed are the persecuted! This eighth and last beatitude is the most important beatitude in Matthew 5. Unlike the other beatitudes, Jesus expands this beatitude and makes application of it. But what is the focus of this beatitude? Persecution. The word appears three times in this section, which means that Jesus was putting great emphasis on it. Beatitudes beget troubles.
Professor William Barclay, who cannot be accused of orthodoxy, speaks of the honesty shown by Jesus here (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, rev. ed., of The Daily Study Bible Series , [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975], 111). Unlike many modern evangelists, Jesus clearly revealed to his disciples the cost of being a Christian. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven will be persecuted. So Jesus was saying, "Blessed are you who bear the marks of persecution and blessed are you when they persecute you."
Persecution Is Part of Christianity
Why should we study persecution? If you live in the United States, you may think that the idea of persecution of Christians is not very relevant today. Why? We are not experiencing any real persecution here. But a little book by Nina Shea, In the Lion's Den , published by Broadman and Holman, gives evidence that more Christians around the world have been martyred for their faith in this century alone than in the combined previous nineteen centuries of the church's history. In many countries today it is a crime to be a Christian.
We must study persecution because it is a part of Christianity. True Christians have been persecuted throughout the history of the church. Professor William Barclay, in his commentary on this section, describes the persecution of the first disciples: "Christianity often came to send, not peace, but a sword which divided families in two. It was literally true that a man might have to love Christ more than he loved father or mother, wife, or brother or sister. Christianity often involved in those days a choice between a man's nearest and dearest and Jesus Christ."
Barclay continues, "Still further, the penalties which a Christian had to suffer were terrible beyond description. All the world knows of the Christians who were flung to the lions or burned at the stake; but these were kindly deaths. Nero wrapped the Christians in pitch and set them alight, and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them in the skins of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them to death. They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them; red hot brass plates were affixed to the tenderest parts of their bodies; eyes were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes; their hands and feet were burned while cold water was poured over them to enlighten the agony."
These were the conditions for early Christians, and in many parts of the world, believers are suffering just as much. Barclay concludes, "These things are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ" (Barclay, p. 112). We must think the same today.
Why Are Christians Persecuted?
Jesus told his followers, "Deny yourself, take up the cross, and daily follow me," and he meant what he said. So first we ask the question: "Why such persecution? The seventh beatitude spoke of peacemaking, which I said involves the preaching of the gospel. But such peacemaking will necessarily produce persecution. Why? Because the gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, as we read in 1 Corinthians 1. It is called the offense of the gospel.
Why is the gospel offensive to some? Because of Jesus Christ. In John 3:20 Jesus said, "Everyone who does evil hates the light," and in John 7:7 he declared, "The world . . . hates me because I testify that what it does is evil."
In John 15:18-25 Jesus further explained this to his disciples. First, he said, "The world hates you," which is a given. Then he said, "Keep in mind that it hated me first." Then Jesus told the disciples that they are not of this world, that he chose them, and that they are his servants. The idea there is that if the master is hated, the servants of the master will also be hated. He then said that the world hates him without reason, which is what persecution for righteousness' sake is. The world hated Jesus because he was light, righteousness, and holiness. They hated him because he revealed the wickedness of the people of the world. They hated him because he exposed their evil by his life and by his preaching.
We must always keep in mind that sinners are enemies of God. In fact, sin at its heart is enmity against the true God. So if God is hated by the world, then Jesus will also be hated, because Jesus is God--very God and very man. And if Jesus is hated by the world, all his followers will also be hated by the world. We read about this in 1 John 3:12-13. John writes, "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you."
Preaching Results in Persecution
True Christians, in other words, will be hated and persecuted, first, because they preach and declare that the Bible is the truth, the only truth, and nothing but the truth. If you preach that, I guarantee that you will be persecuted. No one will persecute you if you preach multiculturalism or multi-religious ideas. But the moment you preach the absolute infallibility of God's word, the Bible, you will be persecuted.
Second, when you preach the biblical doctrine that all people are sinners and God's wrath abides upon them, you will be persecuted. If you also preach that Jesus Christ is the only Savior--very God and very man--you will be persecuted. Now, you will not experience persecution if you preach that Jesus is a savior along with many other saviors. You will not be persecuted if you say that Jesus is a god or a prophet among other gods and prophets. There won't be any problem at all if you say these things. In fact, people will say you are a very nice, magnanimous person. But when you preach that Jesus alone is God and the only Savior and the only Prophet, Priest and King, you will experience trouble. And especially if you preach this in certain countries in the world today, you will be persecuted. Read about it in The Lion's Den.
What will happen if you believe and preach that salvation is only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ who was crucified, dead, buried and raised up on the third day and so on? You will be persecuted. What if you preach that our ultimate loyalty is due to Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and not to any other guru or Caesar in the whole world? You will be persecuted.
What if you preach that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge all those who reject him? In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 we read, "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed." I guarantee that if you preach this truth of judgment and everlasting destruction, you will be persecuted. You don't even have to go to another country to experience persecution for preaching this biblical truth. If you start preaching these things in the United States, you will be persecuted.
What should we do? I say, go ahead and preach on these things. Preach on eschatology. Tell people that there is eternal life and eternal damnation when Jesus Christ comes again to judge. Why? Just as Jesus was the light of the world who exposed its darkness and revealed the way of salvation, now Christians are the light of the world. Every day that we live our Christian lives, we are exposing the evil of the world and revealing the only way of salvation. As Christians, we must oppose moral relativism. As Christians we must preach the law and the gospel.
The World Hates Truth
In the Old Testament we read of a wicked king in Israel whose name was Ahab. There was a prophet named Micaiah, whom Ahab shut up in prison. And in 2 Chronicles 18:6-7, Ahab explained to Jehoshaphat what he thought of Micaiah. What did he say? "I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad." I hate him! Why did Ahab hate Micaiah? Because Micaiah alone stood for truth. He alone was the true prophet of God, and, thus, Ahab hated him.
This type of hatred because of righteousness is not new. Abel was hated by his brother Cain. Joseph was hated by his own brothers and by Potiphar's wife. David was hated by Saul. The three Hebrew children were hated by the Babylonians. Daniel was hated by the Medo-Persian people. Mordecai was hated by Haman. And tradition says Isaiah was hated and sawn in two by his own people. Jeremiah, tradition says, was hated by his own people and stoned to death by them in Egypt. The prophets were hated because they were prophets of the Lord.
Jesus was hated. John 1:11 tells us, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." As the sinless Son of God, Jesus condemned the sin of the world by his own presence and preaching--by his life, in other words. Jesus was light, but those who hated him were the children of the devil. They hated him with their words and deeds. They called him a Samaritan and a drunkard and finally they killed him.
In the same way, Christians will be hated by the words and deeds of the world. Why? Christians are united to Jesus Christ. As servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are like their master. They are not of the world; rather, their citizenship is in heaven. Their conversation is different, for they speak of eternal things, not temporal things. And since they are like Christ, they will experience what he experienced in the world.
Jesus Brings Division
Jesus came to divide, as Barclay said. The pious Simeon said this when he spoke to Jesus' mother Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
That is absolutely true. Very polite, cultured people will act as venomous serpents when you say that they must trust in Jesus Christ alone to be saved from the wrath of God. When you declare that unless they trust in Christ alone, he will judge them and send them to hell, people who are nice, polished, educated, rich, smiling, and happy will manifest the thoughts of their hearts and begin to express their hatred toward Jesus Christ, which, in turn will manifest itself in hatred toward you.
Jesus predicted this reaction of people when he spoke about his own coming into the world. In Matthew 10:34-36 we read, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'" Here we see parents disowning children, and children disowning parents. Why? Simply put, some believed in Jesus Christ.
Persecution for Righteousness, Not Evil
Now, we must understand that the persecution Jesus is speaking about is for righteousness' sake. That means this persecution is for the sake of the name of Jesus and for the sake of his kingdom.
In 1 Peter 2:20 Peter asks, "But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?" So let us not conclude that everyone who is persecuted is blessed. That is not true. But in 1 Peter 4:15-16 Peter, who heard this Sermon on the Mount, tells us, "If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed but praise God that you bear that name."
Forms of Persecution
Who persecutes Christians? The answer is very simple: The world. Those who oppose the Lord Jesus Christ persecute his people. This includes, of course, members of formal religious institutions--churches that no longer believe in Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures. Although they are churches, they also engage in the persecution of true believers. Even Jesus was persecuted especially by the religious establishment of his day, and that persecution continues to this day. Many in the church, including Roman Catholics and Protestants, have persecuted and murdered true believers throughout history.
There are many forms of persecution a Christian will encounter. There may be persecution within a family. Parents may disown and disinherit their own children because of the crime they committed in trusting in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. A marriage may be broken up necessarily because the husband or the wife believed in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. In the workplace one may be fired, demoted, or spoken against because of one's Christian faith. In school one can be spoken against and ostracized for being a Christian. Why? Your stand for truth makes others extremely uncomfortable. In a Christian's social life, one's old buddies may drop a person suddenly, saying, "He is a killjoy. He is not fun anymore. He will not drink, smoke, revel, or carouse. He will no longer speak filth with us."
There can be persecution in political life as well. When you trust in Jesus Christ, you will no longer will think of politics as religion. You may no longer think that either Republicans or Democrats are honest and standing for truth, but rather that they are in for their own self-aggrandizement.
Persecution in the Early Church
Perhaps you are familiar with stories of persecution of the early church. For example, the Roman authorities accused the ancient church of cannibalism because they misinterpreted the Lord's Supper, which speaks about eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. They accused the ancient church of atheism because the Christians did not have any visible gods to worship. They accused the ancient church of immorality because the church practiced love feasts. They accused the ancient church of disrupting family life, and which was true, but the disruption was brought about by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And finally, they accused the ancient church of lack of patriotism because Christians refused to worship Caesar. Caesar worship was a principle that was introduced in the Roman empire to unify the far-flung Roman empire around the person of Caesar. (PGM) People had to go to a certain place, take a pinch of incense, offer it to the altar to demonstrate one's worship of Caesar, and then receive a certificate that you have done so. After doing that, the Romans said that people could worship any gods they wanted to. But as people threw the incense upon the altar, they must also say, "Caesar is Lord," and Christians refused to do that. They would only say, "Iesous Kurios --Jesus is Lord."
We read much about the persecution of early believers in the writings of Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11 we read how Paul experienced this persecution preached by Jesus. Beginning with verse 23 he wrote, "Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers," and so on. You just read it.
Persecution in the Modern Church
Persecution of Christians is not limited to the past. Today in China millions of members of house churches are considered outlaws and criminals. Why? Because their churches are not registered with the atheistic government. It appears that anywhere from eleven million to one hundred million Chinese Christians belong to these underground churches. Many are arrested, imprisoned, and sent to the laogai, the Chinese word for "reform through hard labor camps" (Nina Shea,The Lion's Den , [Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997], 58). Many Christians in China are engaged in this "reform," which produces cheap products for the Americans. Chinese religious persecution intensified in 1996, of which we have specific proof.
In the Moslem country of Sudan, Christians are given several options: They can either convert to Islam, flee, be killed, be raped, or be taken as slaves. As a result, there are many slaves in the country who were Christians. Even many children of Christians are taken and sold for fifteen dollars to serve in people's homes.
So the persecution of Christians is not just ancient history, but, rather, very current history. The life of Christians in China, Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba and Laos is extremely hard. In fact, in some countries, like Saudi Arabia, citizens of the United States who are living in Saudi Arabia cannot even worship Jesus Christ freely. It is against the law. But our own State Department is silent about these things. Why? Because to us trade is more important than truth. Aren't we all happy when the economy is good?
God Ordains Persecution
Now, we must realize that the persecution of Christians is not accidental. Persecution is of divine ordination. In Acts 14 we read how Paul had been stoned and left for dead in Lystra. After preaching to people in other cities, he returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. In verse 22 we read that he declared to the believers there, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." Persecution is a must!
In Matthew 10:22 Jesus told his disciples, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." That is the truth and there is no question or doubt about it. Jesus did not express this in the subjunctive mood. Persecution is real.
Persecution is ordained for all believers. In his Olivet discourse on eschatology Jesus told his disciples, "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death. You will be hated by all nations because of me" (Matt. 24:9). In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul instructed Timothy, his son in the faith, saying, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." That is a guarantee of persecution. In 1 Thessalonians 3:3 Paul says he was sending Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians "that no one would be unsettled by these trials" and then Paul added, "You know quite well that we were destined for them." This is divine ordination.
If you are not being persecuted, you must ask, "Why?" And what is the answer? You are not living a godly life. It is the godly life that causes the other person to be heated up, upset, condemned and unhappy. The truth is, everyone who lives a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. If no one is persecuting you, it is because you are not living the Christian life and shining as lights in the world. That is the only reason.
I see many Christians being interviewed on television talk shows, and I can tell very easily that such people are no longer offensive to the world. But in Luke 6:26 Jesus said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets." When the world applauds, appreciates, and commends you instead of persecuting you, you can deduce that you are no longer a true prophet of the Lord. You can also deduce that you are, in fact, a false prophet who always speaks smooth things created from your own subjectivity without hearing from the Spirit of the living God.
The apostles were not frauds like some modern preachers. The apostles taught their disciples well, just as Jesus Christ had taught them, "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). Included in their teaching was that those who believed in Jesus Christ would be persecuted.
How to Think about Persecution
Perhaps you are wondering, "If persecution is ordained for Christians, how in the world can we live?" Let me give you some answers. When we are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for the sake of Jesus Christ, then we must conclude the following:
- That we have made our calling and election sure and are true Christians.
- That we belong to the kingdom of God.
- That we are righteous.
- That we are chosen by the Father and the Son.
- That ours is the kingdom of God now and in the future.
- That Jesus is truly our Lord and that is why we are being persecuted.
- That our salvation is sure and certain.
- That we are not false prophets.
- That we are not worldly. You see, worldly people are not persecuted.
- That we are in the good company of the prophets of old and the apostles.
- That we are truly born again. The new birth gives us a new nature--one that is different from our old, sinful nature. Paul says, "Put on the new man, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24). That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and no one persecutes flesh. But that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. If we are born of the Spirit of God, the world sees that essential differentia--the new nature--and persecutes us for it.
Comfort in Persecution
Having made these conclusions, let me speak a few more words that will bring us great comfort when we are being persecuted. Now, these are things many popular preachers will not tell you. Why? They are counting heads and, therefore, they hide this aspect of the gospel.
First, in Philippians 1:29 Paul, the true apostle, says, "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. . ." God gives us grace to endure persecution. That is what "It has been granted to you" means. Praise be to God for giving us such grace! Then everything is all right, isn't that true? "It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for him since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had and now hear that I still have." In other words, when God saves us, he gives us grace not only to trust in Jesus Christ but also to endure persecution. We should praise the Lord for his provision. He is not asking us to suffer persecution in our own strength. He is giving us grace to endure.
Second, when people are abusing you, slandering you, and speaking all manner of evil falsely against you, then you must draw this conclusion: "I am blessed by God, and the Spirit of God and of glory is now resting upon me. He will enable me to endure persecution." In 1 Peter 4:14 we read, "If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." What a comfort!
Third, the Holy Spirit will give you the fruit of the Spirit in the midst of persecution. In 1 Thessalonians 1 Paul wrote to the Thessalonians who had received the gospel in the midst of much persecution, "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." Let me tell you, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and of glory, rests upon believers, giving them the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, and peace--that fills their souls and overwhelms them. If this is true of you, then you can look persecution in the eye and face it.
Fourth, you will not endure persecution alone. There is divine guarantee given in the Holy Scripture that the presence of God will be with you from beginning to end. In Isaiah 43:2-3 we read, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk though the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . ." God will be with you when you go through waters and fire.
Do you remember the story of the three Hebrew children who were thrown into the fire by the Babylonians? Afterwards, King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace and realized there was a problem. What did he say? "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire? . . . I see four men. . . and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." You see, that is the presence of God. God is with us, brothers and sisters, in our afflictions, in our troubles, in our trials, in our waters, and in our fire. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus promised, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Results of Persecution
What else will bring us comfort in persecution? In 1 Peter 1:6 we read, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." In other words, persecution purifies our faith. Persecution separates the authentic from the inauthentic and the genuine from the false and the imitation.
What else does persecution do for a believer? In Romans 5:3 we read, "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character. . ." and so on. Tribulation is productive of Christian character, not destructive of it. In divine order, persecution brings us to maturity.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 we find that persecutions--these lightweight, temporal troubles, which include death--also produces something else. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." What is persecution achieving for us? Eternal glory.
Do you now feel that you can endure some persecution? And what is the reason you can do so? Because God is with us, because God gives us grace, and because we know that persecution is productive of holiness, character, and glory.
Rejoicing in Persecution
How, then, should we react to persecution? Jesus told us to "Rejoice and be glad." In fact, that is a command of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why did he say that? Because, according to Jesus, when we are persecuted for righteousness, we are blessed.
The Jews believed that if people were suffering and persecuted, it was because they were wicked and God was cursing and punishing them. But now Jesus was reversing that idea and teaching that if a person was really being persecuted for righteousness' sake, that demonstrated God's acceptance of that person and blessing on him. It was proof that a person was righteous.
So Jesus commanded his disciples, "Rejoice and be glad." The word "glad" comes from a Greek word which means leap for joy. And in Luke 10:21 we read that when Jesus realized how God was saving his people, he leaped for joy. This word does not mean just a little bit of joy. No, it means a demonstrative joy. It is the joy of the one who landed on the moon, or the joy of a mountain climber who finally reached the top of Mount Everest. Such a person truly leaps for joy!
If this is a command, then we must do it. And God enables us by the Spirit of glory to rejoice when we are persecuted. We are enabled, not to retaliate, but to rejoice greatly. We are enabled, not to sulk, but to sing, as we read of Paul and Silas doing in the prison of Philippi at midnight. They had been beaten up, stripped, flogged severely, and thrust into prison in the middle of the night. What were they doing? Praying and singing. Let me tell you, their reaction did not come from their own natures. God enabled them to rejoice. The Spirit of God and glory was with them, and instead of cursing God, they were blessing him and praising him.
We read of a similar reaction to persecution in Acts 5:41. After being imprisoned, interrogated, flogged and warned not to speak in the name of Jesus, "the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." They thought it was great.
In Acts 7 we read of Stephen, who was being stoned because he was making peace by preaching the gospel. As he was preaching, he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus Christ standing there. And after his enemies dragged Stephen out and began to stone him, he knelt down and prayed for those who were killing him.
What is the reaction Jesus wants his disciples to have? Rejoice and leap for joy. Why? Through persecution we are being perfected for the kingdom of God.
Why else should we rejoice and leap for joy when we are persecuted? Because, as Paul says in Romans 8, we are convinced that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ--nothing in all of creation, whether sword, death, life, present, future, demons, angels, height, depth, troubles, danger, nakedness, or famine. Nothing in all creation!
Have you ever considered what that means? Now, I am sure that when astronomers study the universe and realize the enormity of it, their eyes must pop out sometimes. But let me tell you, the whole universe and everything in it is finite. Even the devil is finite. Only God is infinite. And so John tells us in his epistles, "The one who is in you is greater than the one who is the world" (1 John 4:4).
The whole world is nothing and less than nothing, but our God is the Sovereign Lord of the universe. Therefore, I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that nothing shall separate believers from the love of God. Even death cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. The maximum that any persecution can do is to kill us.
How to Avoid Persecution
I have said that persecution for righteousness' sake is part of the Christian life. But what if you want to avoid such persecution? I will tell you some ways.
- Preach health, wealth, and gold now. In Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff, a great preacher is quoted as saying, "I am sick and tired of hearing about streets of gold. I don't need gold in heaven, I gotta have it now!" (Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival , [Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997] p. 106). That preacher is making a lot of gold now. I have been told that he travels by Concord and lives in $2,500-per-night hotel rooms. This man got the gold. Additionally, he gets interviews on television. If you do that, you will be okay.
- Be a lover of the world . Go ahead--be a lover of the world rather than a lover of God. Be like a chameleon and blend with the world. If you do so, you can avoid persecution.
- Don't talk about the Bible. Don't preach the gospel. Don't talk about the Bible's morality, values, and law. Just ignore the Bible and you will not be persecuted.
- Be a false prophet. Why? The world will praise you. In Luke 6:26 Jesus said the world will praise you just as it praised the false prophets in the earlier times.
All these are ways that a person can avoid persecution. But what is the problem with doing that? The problem is, if you do these things, you will have no part in God's coming kingdom. That is a tremendous price to pay for avoiding persecution!
What do I mean by God's coming kingdom? In the book of Revelation we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming again, and in chapters 21 and 22 we are given a description of his kingdom: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. For the old order of things has passed away.'" "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. . .On each side of the river stood the tree of life. . .No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads" (Rev. 21:3-4, 22:1-4). We forfeit all this when we don't stand for Christ and avoid persecution.
The Blessing of Persecution
What, then, should we do? We should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. We must realize that we may be persecuted for a little while, but that God will be with us. And we must realize that after a while, he will bring us into his eternal kingdom where, Jesus said, our reward will be great, for we shall live forever in fellowship with him. There will be no more curse, no more tears, no more death, and no more persecution. There will be a new heaven and a new earth for those who are in God's kingdom. This is great blessing. This is great reward.
Therefore, when you are persecuted, rejoice! Be assured that the end of persecution and the endless enjoyment of life awaits those who are lovers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we wait patiently and stand firm under persecution so that we may, in God's time, receive a crown of life. Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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