By Nathan Jones
How have Christians suffered for their faith?
In this "The Truth Will Set You Free" TWave Radio episode, Pastor Vic Batista and I will look at the seventh and eighth end times signs of great signs from the sky and the sign of Christian persecution prophesied by Jesus in Luke 21:11-19.
Sign of Christian Persecution
Vic Batista: Nathan, you have been taking us through this incredible journey about the judgments that Revelation tells us will happen regarding catastrophes that are coming. We read in Luke 21:11 about the "fearful sights and great signs from heaven" that Jesus foretold in this gospel. Let's now start talking about the persecution of Christians that is coming as Jesus explained in Luke 21:12-19 would happen.
Nathan Jones: Right. The eighth sign out of the ten end times signs that Jesus gave us in Luke 21 talks about the persecution of Christians. So, He goes from the natural disasters which will grow more frequent and intense, and then He switches over to explaining the persecution of His followers that will be coming.
Let's start reading with Luke 21:12:
"But before all this they [the authorities] will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliverer you to synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them, but make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourself because I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You'll be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of Me, but not a head on your head will perish by standing firm you will gain life."
Vic Batista: Great persecution was something that the Early Church suffered under, but also again in our time, and also even worse in the future Tribulation. Can you talk to us a little bit about the development of Christian persecution?
Nathan Jones: Certainly, there was a tremendous amount of persecution that the Early Church faced. Everyone is familiar with the stories of the Roman Empire throwing Christians into the Coliseum and feeding them to lions and slaughter by gladiators. The Church was actually persecuted right out of the gate by the Jews, the very same ones who persecuted Jesus at the Sanhedrin. Even though everyone is responsible for Jesus' death, the first persecution came from the Jewish religious leaders of the time. Then as Christianity moved out so too did persecution by the Romans and various governors and other religions, especially Caesar worship at that time.
The twelve Apostles went out to bring the Gospel to the world, but only one of them survived without being murdered — the Apostle John. You can read Foxe's Voice of the Martyrs to learn the fate of each Apostle.
James son of Zebedee was beheaded in 44 AD. Matthew was killed by a halberd in 60 AD. James was beaten to death by a club after being crucified and stoned. Matthias was stoned to death and then beheaded. Andrew was crucified. Peter, as we are most familiar with, was crucified upside down. Bartholomew was flayed alive and then crucified. Thomas made it to India to share the Gospel and there he was killed by a spear. Simon the Zealot was crucified. Paul as we know was beheaded in Rome.
Those who followed after the Apostles, like Stephen, we read in Acts about how he was the first martyr. Stephen was stoned to death with Paul, who went by Saul of Tarsus at the time, who was watching on. Mark was dragged through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt before he was beheaded. Philip the Evangelist was crucified. Doctor Luke, who is the author of book Luke and Acts, was hung.
We read about how the people who saw Jesus, which was an important qualification for the position of Apostles because they had personally seen Jesus and ministered along with Him at the time — all of them died for their faith. Even John didn't get away unscathed. He was boiled, but it didn't work. His skin must have been a mess for the rest of his life. He was exiled to the Island of Patmos afterwards. We do know through Church tradition that he was later released from the Island of Patmos and made it back to Ephesus where he was a missionary and bishop.
Vic Batista: John was up there in age, right, like 90-something years old?
Nathan Jones: Yes, the Romans were trying to boil a 90 year old guy to death! I mean, they were vicious. It wasn't like, "Okay, you are a Christian and I'm a Caesar worshipper and that's okay, no problem. We'll all get along just fine." No, it didn't work that way. If you weren't a member of the State religion, you were dead. If you believed in Jesus Christ in the First Century, you gave your life up. And many, if not most, Christians did.
As time went on, and as we've gone through the last 2,000 years of the Church Age, we have seen the persecution of Christians increasing in frequency and intensity around the globe. As a matter of fact, Foxe's Voice of the Martyrs reads, "And yet, not withstanding all these continual persecutions and horrible punishments, the Church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the Apostles and of men apostolical, and watered plenteously with the blood of the Saints."
Vic Batista: And we can see that persecution happening to Christians all over the earth. Persecution is something that if you call yourself a "Believer in Christ" and you are making a difference for Christ, you're going to get persecuted. That is the reality.
I'm reminded of what the Apostle John wrote in Revelation 1:9. He was writing to his friends and he said, "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Here he relates to the persecution that all Christians were experiencing at the hands of the Romans. As you told us, Nathan, all of the Apostles with the exception of John all died martyrs.
As a pastor, I'm about finished teaching through the whole New Testament. We are in 2 John and then we are going to get into 3 John. I was sharing with our ministry that John is one of those incredible individuals who suffered so much persecution, but look what God did through him, right?
Nathan Jones: Exactly! Through John God gave us the Gospel of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation. God kept him alive because He wasn't done with him here on this earth yet.
Vic Batista: That's right. Incredible faith!
God Can Relate
Vic Batista: There's going to be an ongoing and increasing persecution of Christians in these last days. Maybe individuals reading this right now are experiencing persecution. Nathan, if you could offer a word of encouragement to those who are tuned in, that'd be great.
Nathan Jones: What I think is comforting for anyone who is going through suffering is knowing that God Himself went through suffering. He gave His Son Jesus Christ to die for you in order to take your sins upon Himself. He paid the price for our rebellion and took the punishment of death upon Himself.
God agonized over seeing His Son die. He knows what suffering and death is like. God can relate. He understands what you are going through.
It's so important that we give our lives to Jesus Christ and ask Him to forgive us of our sins. We must throw everything that is sinful in our lives way. Sin only causes us so much harm. When we live a life that's pleasing to God, He'll set our paths straight.
Though we will have suffering due to our faith in Jesus, still because of our allegiance to Savior, He will protect us. He will guide us through the problems and persecution life throws at us. But, we will be much better and stronger on the other side.