“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:10
Christian persecution is swiftly escalating worldwide. Persecution is the act of treating someone unfairly or cruelly due to racial, religious, or political beliefs. A human rights agency, China Aid, reported in 2014 there was a 300% increase in Chinese religious persecution. Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens, stated, “Although the Chinese persecutors might be described as tame compared to the atrocities of the jihadists or so-called ‘holy-warriors’ in Arabia and Africa, the China Aid report suggests that Christians have become a target of choice on a global scale.” David Curry, president of Open Doors, a Christian persecution tracking agency, reported Christian persecution reached historic levels in 2014, and 2015 is shaping up to reach even higher levels.
It’s not just over there, either. Persecution is also increasing in the United States. Earlier this month a sheriff in Alabama was forced to remove Scripture decals from all patrol cars in reaction to a lawsuit threat from the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The decals displayed a prominent Bible verse, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” citing Matthew 5:9. Last month, cities in both Arizona and Florida voted to change pre-council meeting prayers to either include all religious prayers or stop them completely. Additionally, a high school football coach in Washington State is under investigation for voluntary, post-game prayers. An elementary teacher in Texas was accused of proselytizing because she displayed a cross in her elementary school classroom.
These cases are mild compared to the recent mass shooting which just took place on the campus of Oregon’s Umpqua Community College. According to a woman whose grandmother was onsite as the massacre ensued, the gunman targeted Christians.
“The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were Christian,” she described. “If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.”
Things are heating up. In America Christians have lived in relative peace for centuries, but it hasn’t always been this way. Historical Christians have faced persecution from the inception of the Church Age. Early Christians were assaulted on many fronts and by many different political and religious groups. All but one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples was martyred for their faith. Peter was crucified upside-down. Paul was beheaded. The remaining disciple, John, was exiled to hard labor in his old age to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. The Great Persecution of Christians at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century was the height of Christian persecution. Four edicts banned all Christian practices in the Roman Empire, and eventually all Christians were forced to sacrifice to Roman gods or face execution. Christians were used as bait for lions in the great Roman coliseums. They were dipped in wax and burned alive, sawn in two, and generally faced harrowing ends.
During that time, however, Christian conversions exploded. People came in droves searching for the Truth of God’s Word and the story of the resurrected Jesus. Satan’s plan to eradicate Christianity from the planet using hardship had the reverse effect. Christianity grew exponentially. More persecution resulted in a stronger church. Because Satan couldn’t press them to surrender, he changed tactics. His new strategy was to infiltrate, divide, and conquer. In 313 AD Constantine I, the new Roman Emperor, legalized Christianity. A century later Christianity became the Roman state religion. Suddenly it was fashionable, even lucrative, to be a Christian. False conversions rose. However, true repentance and sincere church growth slowed.
Because Jesus said Christian persecution would increase as the end of the age drew near, it may benefit us to know what to expect.
- If you live your faith, you will be persecuted. Jesus said this Himself. Once you became a Christian, you essentially became an enemy of the State. I’m not trying to be melodramatic. However, Ephesians 6:12 says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. This means there is a network of wickedness in our current, fallen world that adamantly opposes all Christians. They are working together to bring you down. Their only purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy you. When you bowed your head and received the ultimate forgiveness from your Savior, you became Target #2. Your ticket to Glory is also your mark for harassment.
- You are not alone. You are Satan’s Target #2; Jesus Himself is Target #1. Jesus was continually persecuted during His earthly tenure. Although Jesus was flawless, Satan stirred the hearts of many to harass, agitate, and berate the Son of God. At one point Jesus and His followers sailed the sea to minister to the city of Gadarenes. Satan’s minions stirred a demonically-inspired storm so fierce they almost sank. However, after commanding the wind and waves to cease, Jesus reached the other side and cast demons from two possessed citizens of the city. The demons, searching for a new home, made one in the city’s herd of pigs. Confused and in distress, the pigs overran an embankment and were killed. The populace begged Jesus to leave because He was an impediment to their financial health. Before His death, Jesus was falsely accused, mocked, spat upon, punched, slapped, kept awake for an illegal, all-night trial, stripped, plucked of His beard, flogged, nailed, and crucified. He warned His followers they would be treated similarly. Your Brothers and Sisters are continually harassed and tormented for their identical faith. You have good company in your sorrows. Be encouraged as we comfort one another.
- Your Heavenly reward will far outweigh your current heartache. You face trouble on all sides now. We are hard-pressed, but not destroyed. Struck down, but not struck out. Life is tough and it’s even tougher when your Light shines. You face criticism and mocking for your faith; often you don’t understand why the world is so blinded. You’re frustrated and sometimes wonder why you are despised. You are commanded to pray for your persecutors, but who feels like expending valuable prayers on someone bent on ruining you? Remember, life is temporary. A special reward awaits those who endure. The Bible says the Spirit of God rests upon those who undergo trials. Also, although all believers in Christ will enter Heaven, it will belong only to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Matthew 5:10) This indicates a unique power or authority in Heaven which will belong only to mistreated believers. A special crown, the Crown of Life, will be given only to martyrs. (Revelation 2:10) Those who are martyred during the Seven-Year Tribulation will rule with Christ during the Millennial Reign. (Revelation 20:4)
Jesus said persecution would increase as we draw closer to the end of the Church Age. This means we could potentially see powerful anti-Christian sentiments. Jobs could be lost. Relationships could be severed. People may mock and criticize you. You may be injured or, worse yet, even lose your life for your beliefs. Take heart. It really does get better than this. One day we will be amongst our brethren and will never regret a single time we took a stand for our beloved Savior. Stand strong and lift your head high, fellow Saint. Your redemption is near.