No one likes the idea of having to suffer persecution.
Persecution is not something that just happened centuries ago, it is happening all around the world now.
What happens in times of persecution – many Christians are being tortured for their faith and thousands die just because they refuse to stop believing in Jesus.
In this article, we will look at how to handle persecution.
1. Jesus said that we will be persecuted
In the Bible there is the promise of persecution, Jesus said:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.John 15:18-21 ESV
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
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.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
But all these things they will do to you on account of my name because they do not know him who sent me.”
The word ‘persecute**’ used is διώκω (diōkō) which means ‘to pursue, persecute, to systematically oppress and harass a person or group.’
When we look at how Jesus describes the time leading up to the end of the world with all the persecution, it can all seem very scary!
This is what He said:
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.Matthew 24:9-14 NIV
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
What happens in times of persecution – when I hear verses about being persecuted, I get a very vivid picture of myself clinging onto a branch of a tree in the middle of powerful flood waters.
The mighty torrent roars by and thunders down a huge chasm taking virtually everything in it′s path to destruction.
2. It’s just not fair to be persecuted
All that I considered as being stable, and dependable is being ripped away.
All those things I hold as being fair and noble and honest, are just uprooted and destroyed.
Where is true justice when I am handed over to be persecuted and put to death purely for being a Christian and for doing good?
Where is the fairness in being hated, just because I believe in Jesus?
What happened to God’s help in that many turn away from the faith?
And they not only fell, but they also betrayed and hated each other.
And there are so many false teachers who mislead many.
And the flood of wickedness gets stronger and stronger.
Am I the only one hanging on in these forceful waters?
The statements above could be our knee-jerk reaction to being persecuted.
3. So how should a Christian respond to persecution?
Firstly it is good to realise what persecution is.
John Stott described it as:
persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value systems.”’16 Sep 2022 Matthew 5: 10-12′ A Commentary by John Stott. 2
One value system believes, trusts, and loves the God of the Bible.
The other value system wants nothing to do with that God and in fact, in their minds, they are at war with Him.
Just because you are suffering persecution it does not mean that the Lord wants you to be a martyr.
If you find yourself being overwhelmed by persecution, there is no shame in moving away from it, because Jesus said:
You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.Matthew 10:22-23 NIV
When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.“
However bad our situation we need to remember what the apostle Paul said:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.Romans 8:16–18 NIV
Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The apostle Paul had experienced a lot of persecution, beatings, stoning, etc. but he was still able to say that these were nothing compared to the wonderful things that God had in store for His followers in heaven.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.2 Timothy 3:10-11 NIV
Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”
4. Stand firm in persecution and hold on to the Bible
But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”Matthew 24:13 NIV
That seems such a simplistic solution, in overwhelming circumstances.
Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.”2 Thessalonians 2:15 NIV
The most secure and dependable thing in this life is what is written in the Bible, the Word of God.
It is totally trustworthy because it is God-breathed.
It′s contents come from God, who will never fail and who is unchangeable and constant.
What God has said, He still sees it the same way thousands of years later!
If He changed His mind, it would be from some error of judgment, but that is not possible because He sees all things from infinity to infinity.
He is the source of all knowledge and wisdom and nothing catches Him by surprise.
Therefore, He never has changed His mind so as to alter what He has promised.
So the safest thing for us to do when the mighty torrent rushes at us is to hold onto the Bible’s teachings and promises.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.”Isaiah 40:8 NIV
So putting our faith and trust in God’s Word is the most powerful and safest thing we can do.
Paul describes how we remain in God’s olive tree only by faith. He wrote that Israel was:
broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.”Romans 11:20 NIV
When times are treacherous and everyone seems to be giving way under the pressure of this world, let us remind ourselves to stand by faith and to hold to the teachings from the Bible.
And in peaceful times, we still need to do the same.
5. Where are Christians most persecuted today?
The organisation ‘Open Doors’ tries to keep track of all the persecution carried out against Christians in the world.
Their figures are in the list below but bear in mind that these are the reported figures of persecution and the actual number may be far more:
- Around the world, 5,621 Christians were killed for their faith in 2022.
- More than 2,000 churches and church buildings were attacked, looted or forcibly closed.
- Around 140,000 Christians were displaced from their home or country for faith-related reasons. 3
This is a list of the countries for 2023 that have extreme persecution of Christians:
- North Korea
These countries have very high levels of persecution:
- Saudi Arabia
- Burkina Faso
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
These results come from Open Doors ‘World Watch List 2023’ 4
History shows us that although persecution took its toll upon Christians, God used it to his advantage in cleansing the Church and deepening their faith
Jerome, (c. 342–347 to 420 AD), also known as Jerome of Stridon, was a Christian priest, confessor, theologian, and historian, who is commonly known as Saint Jerome 5 wrote:
Persecutions have made the church of Christ grow; martyrdoms have crowned it.”Jerome 6
Leonard Ravenhill (1907–1994) was an English Christian evangelist and author who focused on the subjects of prayer and revival. He is best known for challenging Western evangelicalism (through his books and sermons) to compare itself to the early Christian Church as chronicled in the Book of Acts. 7
He made this observation:
The early Church was married to poverty, prisons and persecution.‘Persecution and Suffering for Jesus Christ.’ By Thomas A. Tarrants. 8th March 2019. C.S. Lewis Institute. 8
Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.”
6. Three bad effects of persecution:
In section one above ‘Jesus said that we will be persecuted’ Jesus’ words are quoted from Matthew 24 and we can see that he mentions three adverse effects of persecution:
a) Firstly, some will fall away from the faith
When it really starts to cost being a Christian, then many will be put off and will fall away and will desert Jesus.
Paul complains in his letters of people who began well but became deserters.
The suffering times are shaking times and so this exposes the foundations that people have built their faith upon.
If our foundation consists of us hanging all of our hope upon the invisible God and the invisible world to come, our foundation will stand.
But if we hang our hope on this world the foundation will crumble.
b) Secondly, cruelty increases during times of persecution
When persecution is in fashion there is a sudden rise in malice and a shortage of tenderness and moderation.
The world is always full of wickedness, but when persecution comes in wickedness abounds, it increases and all hell seems to break upon the church.
The undercover aggression towards the church suddenly breaks out into the open and so persecuting times are times of discovery because the wolves that were in sheep’s clothing now throw off their disguises.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.2 Timothy 3:12-15 NIV
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…”
c) Thirdly, love dies during times of persecution
Because wickedness increases in times of persecution the love of many grows cold.
At first, this sounds very negative, but notice Jesus said that love grows cold and not dead.
There could still be life in the root and it will spring up again in due course.
The winter of persecution has come, but new growth will appear in the springtime.
Also, notice it is the love of many and not the love of all that grows cold.
God always has a remnant of believers who hold fast to their integrity and retain their zeal. See how to please God.
For all those who are overcomers in times of severe trial, the Crown of Glory will more than make up for all the loss and hurt we may have encountered.
In Revelation, Jesus promises:
Be faithful, even to the point of death and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.Revelation 2:10-11 NIV
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”