Home |  About Us  |   News & Views  |   Articles & Studies | Meditations  | E-periodical |    Audio  |   Links  |  Contact Us |

Persecution and Christians

By Nelson Thomas Mumbai

It seems that Christians today in India are facing a new wave of persecution. Every other day we hear news regarding churches destroyed, prayer halls vandalized, and our gatherings disrupted. Moreover, violent physical abuse and burning of Bibles and other Christian literature have been reported from various places. The freedom that Christians enjoyed for a long time in this land is now slowly disappearing.

     While it is true that the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, religion, and so on, but practically, Christians do not have the same freedom which the majority community enjoys. Especially, after the present government has come to power, many among the majority community feel that Christians cannot have similar rights! So, they are emboldened to harass Christians in different ways. In certain places, it is very difficult for Christians to hold a public meeting.

     The irony is often that the Indian authorities boast over the privileges the majority community enjoys in some other foreign land where they are minority, but they are least bothered about their treatment to the minorities in India!

It’s not only about one country; all over the world, Christians are being persecuted. According to a recent report, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. Express UK published a study explaining the terrible state of Christians in 50 odd countries.

     Christians are persecuted by individuals, rival community mobs, and even the government agencies. Recently in China, a mega church was demolished with dynamite. In some Muslim dominated countries, Christians are regularly attacked and their properties are destroyed. Some of them do not even allow a Christian to keep his sacred book or profess his faith publically.

     The condition of Christians in the so-called “Christian-dominated countries” is also not much different! Many believers are being discriminated and even punished for their commitment to the word of God and their conscience. In the name of political correctness, the leadership keeps silent about the rights of Christians, yet doing everything for the people of other faith!

     Remember that not all who profess Christianity follow the teachings of the New Testament! For this very reason, these professing Christians will not face the hostilities unleashed by the aggressors. It is those who faithfully follow the words of Christ, who are hated and oppressed everywhere.

Why is it that even after 2000 years of its existence, the Church of Jesus Christ is still facing so much hostility? What is wrong with the lifestyle of Christians that they are so much hated and mistreated? Is it the mistake of the Christians or the teachings of Christ?

    It’s good to reflect on what the New Testament says about this issue and what should be our response to any type of mistreatment. Such an understanding will help the people of God to take this realistically and respond as worthy of a true follower of Jesus Christ.

In this regard, let's consider eight things.

1. The godly have always been persecuted. 2 Tim - 3:12

Throughout the Bible, we see that anyone who followed God in all sincerity had to face harassment in one form or another. Stephen’s (the first martyr’s) question to the Jews is noteworthy: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers...”, Act 7:52.

     Hebrew writer summarizes the life of the OT saints in this way; “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” Hebrews 11: 35b -- 38
There is no other side to this issue. If one wants to fear God and live in His ways, definitely he will be persecuted in one way or other. It’s a fact that we see from the beginning.

2. The Lord Jesus Christ foretold it. Matt 10: 17 – 21 Cf. Matt 16:21; 17:22, 23;

Repeatedly the Lord Jesus spoke of the sufferings He and the followers will have to face. He told them, ‘if they persecute me, they will persecute you also. A disciple cannot be greater than the Master.’ Cf. John 15:20.
Once Apostle Peter asked Christ, "See, we have left all and followed You.” Christ told him of the reward he will get in this world as well as the world to come.  In connection with reward in this world the Lord added persecutions too! Cf. Mark 10: 28 – 31.
    Most Christians are well aware of all the agony Christ went through. We should never forget that we can never expect something else as we follow this Lord.
     Very sad to notice there are certain preachers who project the Lord Jesus Christ as a miracle worker who will solve all the physical problems of man. Such a false gospel has caused much damage to the cause of Christ. 
Definitely the Lord Jesus is able to solve all our problems whether physical or spiritual, yet He has never promised us a trouble free life. Christ is calling upon His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him daily. Luke 9:22.

3. The early Church faced much persecution.  Acts  8:1

Soon after the formation of the church of Jesus Christ, we see the saints faced severe aggression. In the beginning it was the Sadducees who were filled with indignation began to threaten attack and even imprison them. Act 4:1, 18, 21; 5: 17, 18, 40. Later the Pharisees also began to persecute the church. The killing of Stephen encouraged them to unleash great persecution against the Church and Christians had to flee from the land for life. Act 8:1.
Apart from the book of Acts, 1Peter, Hebrews and the book of Revelation gives us some glimpses to the tribulation church went through.
     Initially Rome was not against the church, but the local authorities always wanted to please the majority and thus consented to the demands of those who opposed the gospel of Christ.
    Persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero in AD 64, under Domitian in AD 95, and under Emperor Decius in AD 250 was very severe. They were blamed and attacked for any calamity like the great fire of Rome, the plague at Carthage etc. Another series of hostilities took place from AD 303 to 313 which is called the great persecution. Numerous believers chose to die rather than renouncing their faith.
     Even though such state sponsored aggression was ceased by the early 4th century, the true church of Christ was not without any struggle in all these years. We see history being repeated in different places.
     Today as we look back, we see the church of Christ spread all over the world not in favorable circumstances. As Tertullian well observed, it was the blood of the martyrs that became the seed for the church to grow and flourish.

4. The Reasons for persecution were similar most of the time.

If we carefully analyze the immediate reasons behind any attack in all these centauries, we can notice a general pattern. Consider five things based on the New Testament:

a.  Intolerance. Act 4:2, 3.

General public was not against Christians. In fact they highly esteemed the believers. Cf. Acts 2:47; 5:13. Even the Pharisees were seen as tolerant and moderate. Cf. Acts 5:34ff; 23:6. It was the Sadducees who first got disturbed at the preaching of a risen Jesus Christ and began to hinder the Apostle’s preaching. They could not digest the truth of resurrection, when apostles spoke with conviction and boldness based on their personal experience. Cf. Acts 5:17.
    Similar intolerance has been one of the main reasons for persecution everywhere in all these centuries. Christians are very clear about their teachings and practice. With all commitment and zeal they follow it. They refuse to associate with anything which is against the scripture. Many fail to tolerate such strict and exclusive life style of Christians.

2. False propaganda. Acts 6:10ff; 17:7; 21:27ff.

When they could not stand against the powerful preaching of Stephen, the aggressors found an easy way to attack him by instigating the public with misinformation. It was not just some simple accusation but, allegation of blasphemy which is always a serious issue. The martyrdom of Stephen and the subsequent ‘great persecution’ resulted from this false propaganda. 
    When we read Act 21: 27 onwards, we see Jews using the same tactics to get Paul arrested. Cf. 24:5, 6. It was the wise dealings of the Roman officials that they could not kill him. Cf. Act 23:15ff.
    As mentioned earlier during the great persecutions under the Roman rulers, Christians were falsely implicated for various natural calamities like fire, plague or any trouble that society faced.  
     Even today so much fake, forged stories are being propagated against Christians to discredit and harass them. The common people just believe without any effort to verify the fact.

c. Envy. Acts 13:45; 17:5

Seeing the positive response of the listeners to the gospel message, the Jewish leaders were filled with envy. Cf. v.42 – 45, 50. Cf. 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5. They stirred up the people against the preachers of the gospel.
    Bear in mind, gospel of Jesus Christ is effective and powerful. It works mightily in the hearts and lives of anyone who follow it. Gospel is the answer to the myriads of questions man is asking.  There is no other gospel that gives light to the darkened world, life to the spiritually dead individual. Yes, there is no other good news that saves mankind from sin and its consequences.
     Thus it is relevant and meaningful to every man on the face of the earth. In such a scenario, when explained properly and prayerfully any man will like the message of Christ and even follow it. Of course the New Testament very clearly teaches of the divine work in the heart of a listener before one can be a follower of Christ. John 6:44.
     Fallen man with full of jealousy and hard feelings find it very difficult to accept any goodness coming from a source that he does not accept. Such envious men will always instigate opposition to the follower of Lord Jesus Christ.  

d. Greed. Acts 16:16ff

In Philippi Paul and Silas was severely beaten, imprisoned, and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:23, 24. The root cause for this attack was greed. There was a demon possessed girl whom certain masters were using for profit through fortune – telling. Paul liberated her from the bondage of demon and she became a normal girl. That angered her masters and instigated the people against them.
     Similar thing is found in Acts 19: 23ff. In Ephesus a silversmith stirred up the people against the gospel preachers because he felt their preaching was affecting his trade as an idol maker.
    Even today the same thing can be seen. Sinful man who bears the consequences of his evil life seeks ways for salvation and peace of mind. Many exploit this need of man for their own advantage. How often we read of the ‘god-men’ who make millions by selling some form spirituality.
    But the salvation and forgiveness of sins the Lord Jesus Christ offers is absolutely free by His grace. Moreover it’s not just a philosophy but life – transforming reality. Is it not natural for a true seeker to find the answer at any cost and follow it vigorously?
    No wonder, then many will lose their profit! When truth makes men and women from the bondage of wrong concepts and ideologies, the promoters of such philosophies will obviously feel feeble. This resentment slowly leads to even violent opposition to the preachers of the gospel then and now.
     What an irony, even if the fellow-being perishes in his wickedness and bad habits, these so called ‘religious leaders’ will not permit people ‘under’ them to enjoy the blessings of the gospel of Christ. Sad, many do not realize that they are under bondage for the profit of someone else.
     Envy does not allow some to allow the gospel of Christ to prosper; greed forces some to exploit man at any cost, never tolerating any loss of profit. Both way of thinking instigate hostilities against the people of God. 

e. Ignorance and misunderstanding. Romans 10:1-3

Even as Paul was facing severe aggression from the Jewish people, he was very much aware it was due to their ignorance. He understood that their zeal to attack Christians due to lack of understanding. In the later years we see many gentiles too misunderstood Christians so much.
    They could not understand their love and fellowship as one family. So found some other meanings for it. They also misinterpreted the Lord’s Supper. When the normal gentile religious service is conducted publicly, Christians preferred a quite place generally inside a home. Many could not understand the difference. Their loyalty to Christ as the Lord of lords and the King of kings made even the authority to doubt their loyalty to the nation. Thus in many ways common man could not fully grasp the reality behind the Christian way of life.
    Making use of this general misinformation, the enemies of the gospel created an impression that Christians are the reason for all kinds of trouble in the society! Acts 24:5. Further, some of the assailants even felt attacking Christians is part of their religious duty. 
    Same can be noticed even today. Many do not really understand the teachings and lifestyle of Christians as stated in the New Testament. They misread our spiritual services, the evangelical efforts, and even the charitable works. This mistaken impression coupled with false allegations leads to much prejudices and animosity against Christians in the heart of many.
    The interesting thing is much of the moral values and ethical standards the modern society dearly cherishes today are actually based on the teachings of Christ and His followers. Those who followed some of those principles have been respected greatly; however they do not want to credit the real source of those principles! 
     Often this writer feels there is a definite effort to eradicate the name of Jesus Christ and His ways in spite of the universal significance His teachings hold.  
    Thus we see, throughout the church history the above mentioned fivefold reasons can be seen as the triggering factors in persecution against Christians. Of course there could be much more particularly connected to the local issues. However it’s worth to notice these common factors.  

5. True Believers always took persecution joyfully and boldly. Acts 5:40, 41

When the apostles were threatened, imprisoned, and scourged, they departed the council with joy. Due to severe persecution they had to flee for life, yet they were not discouraged or depressed. No one could stop them from witnessing Christ and His gospel.
     Persecution never discouraged the true followers of Christ. The more suffered the more happy and purified they became. Their love for Christ increased, faith in God became strong. They were more than happy to for the cause of Christ. They considered suffering for Christ as a privilege. The experience of Paul and Silas in Philippi is remarkable. Even after beaten severely and feet fastened to stocks, we see them singing praises to God in the midnight. Acts 16:22ff
    Story of Polycarp the godly man who served Christ in Smyrna in the middle of the 2nd century is very challenging. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurlius around AD 161, a mob urged the authorities to arrest this Bishop of Smyrna. 
     Many Christians were already caught and executed brutally. In those days, Roman officials always tried to avoid an execution by forcing Christians to forsake Christ. Few of course seeing the cruel beasts in the amphitheater chose to renounce their faith. 
      When Polycarp was arrested and brought before the officials. They began to plead with him to forsake Christ and acknowledge Caesar as his LORD. They repeatedly implored him to curse Christ and swear in the name of Caesar that they may release him respecting his age of around 100.
      What the Bishop said is noteworthy. “Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  Without considering anything more the Roman soldiers burned him alive.

6. The risen Lord Jesus Christ felt the pain of persecuted believers.  Acts 9:4, 5

Another truth we learn from the book of Acts is how the risen Lord Jesus responded to the persecution of Christians. His question to Saul on the way to Damascus is poignant; "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Act 9: 4. Again in response to Saul’s question the Lord repeats, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
     The Lord Jesus considered the persecution of Christians as against Himself. That means He felt their pain and suffering. Earlier, while Stephen was being stoned to death, we see Christ standing up in heaven and carefully looking on. Act 7: 56.
    Even later also we see the Lord Jesus repeatedly encouraging His servants in the midst of hostilities. Cf. Acts 23:11; 27:23; Revelation 1.
     This is something very much comforting to the suffering saints. The risen Lord Jesus is closely watching all the developments.
    In His perfect will He allows certain painful incidents yet He is on the throne. He allowed death for Stephen and James but delivered Peter from the sword of Herod. Act 7, 12. The Lord protected Paul from many dangers and used him mightily throughout the then known world. At the same time when his worked was over allowed the sword of Nero to fall on him. 2Tim 4:6, 7
     Whatever may the present circumstances, we all aware the Lord feels our pain and He does everything well for His glory.

7. Persecution always helped the Church of Christ! Act 8:9; 9:32; 11: 19; 12:24

One of the remarkable things we can notice about the Church is that the more it was persecuted the more it grew and became strong. The martyrdom of Stephen and the following great persecution actually led to the spread of the gospel.
      The church at Antioch was the result of the ministry by these scattered saints.  Acts 8:1; 11:19. It was from this church Paul and Barnabas went out for the missionary work, thus establishing assemblies in different parts of the Roman Empire.  Act 13: 1-4.
     Persecution never weakened the true church of Christ, on the contrary we can notice, earnest and united prayers, zealous evangelism, and increased commitment to the gospel of Christ was the outcome of their sufferings. Cf. Act 4: 23, 24; 12:5; 12:24 etc.
     Acts 12:24 is very interesting; “But the word of God grew and multiplied.” The context is the killing of James the brother of John the apostle, by King Herod Antipas. When Herod found the Jews were so pleased by this the king caught Peter also to be executed soon after Passover. The whole story found in chapter Acts 12 shows the way God works for His people. Not only the Lord delivered Peter, dealt with Herod’s pride and the work of God increased. And consequently the church was purified, edified, and multiplied. Cf. Act 9:32.
     Throughout the history we see, this is what happened when Churches faced persecution. Wherever Christians had an easy way of life spirituality declined. But any form hardships only encouraged true Christians to be zealous for Christ.

8. Increased persecution is one of the end-time signs. Matt 24: 3,9ff

Finally, we ought to consider this aspect also as we analyze the growing persecution against Christians worldwide.
    When the Lord Jesus answered Apostle’s question, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Christ spoke of various signs of the end times. Then He also referred to increased persecutions as one of the signals for the beginning of the end. Matt 24: 3, 9ff cf. Mark 13: 7 – 13; Luke 21:12.
     Every Bible students knows it well that most of the signs that the Lord Jesus spoke in relation to the last days are actually taking place now. (More). Bible believing Christians everywhere are so excited to see the accurate fulfillment of the Bible prophecies. That confirms their faith and illuminates their hope.
     At the same time, as we rejoice seeing the fulfillment of the words of Christ, do not forget unusual hostilities against the people of God are also included as part of the end-time indicators. In other word, this increased opposition to the gospel of Christ globally should revive us to earnestly wait for the appearance of our Lord, and the fulfillment of the divine program ahead.
Let us pray for the suffering saints worldwide. Notwithstanding these eight truths discussed above, it is definitely very painful and even frightening to face the brutality of the wicked men around us. Pray that God may protect His people everywhere and strengthen them to face it courageously. At the same time, the assailants most of them ignorant and misguided by certain fanatics, may be enlightened to see the reality and be saved from eternal condemnation.
     Let us continue to be good citizens of the land wherever we live. The word of God categorically exhorts us to follow the rules and pray for the authorities. Cf. Romans 13: 1—7; 1Timothy 2:1, 2. Our true citizenship is in heaven from where our Lord Jesus will appear to take us away to be with Him. Philippians 3:20. Then, not only our weak bodies to be transformed, all our sorrows and pain will be over. That is the blessed hope of Christians for which we are eagerly waiting.
     Till that day, realize that our God is on the throne. He is the sovereign one and does as He pleases. But we know He will never make a mistake. Let us yield to His will and fulfill His purposes in this short span of life.


Related topics:   A Death Towards Life  //    Death of Christ and a Christian  //   An Agony that we Easily Neglect'



More:- An index for all studies

Prepared by Nelson Thomas as part of his teaching ministry. You can reproduce this article in any medium,
provided it is unedited, and retain the original author / copyright information and reference to this website.
Please feel free to write to the author for details. Or contact    gracepeaceu AT gmail.com