Disciples and Persecutors

The reality of persecution raises important questions. How should disciples of Jesus react, especially when persecuted by the State? Is resorting to anger or acts of civil disobedience appropriate, or should they instead emulate examples from the life of Christ? In his teachings, he warned all men who decided to follow him to expect “tribulation,” and he summoned them to follow his path (“If they persecuted me, so they will persecute you”).

His disciples must conform their lives to his example by “taking up the cross.” If they refuse, they are “not worthy of me.” It is a “blessing” and not a curse to suffer for him, although this is contrary to the “wisdom of this world” - (Matthew 16:24).

Mercy - Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
[Mercy - Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash]

We are called to “
rejoice and be glad” when persecuted for his sake since “great is our reward in heaven.” Following Jesus causes opposition, thus we should not be surprised when persecution comes. However, the mind dominated by sin sees suffering as a curse.

Only the eye of faith perceives that persecution produces everlasting rewards in the “age to come.” Moreover, his teachings about suffering and persecution are echoed in the apostolic writings.

The Assembly in Thessalonica received the Gospel in “much tribulation,” nevertheless, its members welcomed the message despite hostility. In this way, they became “imitators” of him. Instead of anger or dismay, they accepted the way of discipleship characterized by suffering - (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

By enduring persecution, the Thessalonians became “imitators” of the earlier saints “in Judea…who suffered the same things by their fellow countrymen” - (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

After being compelled to leave Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy to assess the situation. He wanted no one to “shrink back in these tribulations. For you yourselves know that we are appointed for this… WE ARE DESTINED TO SUFFER TRIBULATION.”

Years later, he expressed similar sentiments to Timothy, and he pointed to his sufferings as a pattern for other believers to imitate since “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” - (2 Timothy 3:10-12).

The Biblical hope is forward-looking. Final rewards are received in the “age to come.” Suffering in the present is unpleasant, but it “is a slight momentary affliction preparing us for an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (2 Corinthians 4:17, Revelation 22:12).

Suffering “unjustly” is a sign of Divine approval, evidence that one is a true follower of Jesus. “When you do right and suffer for it patiently, you have God's approval.” Enduring rejection is what it means to follow the Lord who “also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow.” God has GRACED us to suffer for His kingdom - (Philippians 1:28-29, 1 Peter 2:19-20).

THE CORRECT RESPONSE


Being human, we instinctively respond in kind to personal and corporate attacks. Society sees self-defense and retaliation as necessary and morally praiseworthy reactions to threats and assaults. Nevertheless, Jesus prohibited his disciples from retaliating and provided no exceptions to the rule. Revenge may be the “way the world works,” but his disciple is called to something quite different.

When we are persecuted, we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” By showing mercy to our enemies, we emulate God and become “perfect” like Him - (Matthew 5:44-48).

Likewise, Paul exhorted disciples to “bless them that persecute, bless and do not curse.”  They are to “render no one evil for evil.” God’s justice is not blind, but the disciple must “not avenge” himself and leave justice in the hands of the God who will “repay” if, how, and when He sees fit - (Romans 12:14-21).

Peter pointed to the death of Jesus as the true example of how believers are to respond to hostility and persecutors, for “this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you leaving an example” - (1 Peter 2:19-23).

We respond to evil with evil when we view opponents as “enemies”. But we must recall what we once were. No one is born a disciple, and we are all converts.  Previously, we were “enemies” of God, and we were only reconciled to Him “by the death of his Son.” He died for us “while we were yet sinners” - (Romans 5:6-10).

Waterfall life - Photo by Nick Decorte on Unsplash
[Photo by Nick Decorte on Unsplash]

Our true “
enemies” are not “blood and flesh, but the principalities, the authorities, the world-holders of this darkness.” Human agents unwittingly do acts of aggression on behalf of their demonic overlords. On the Cross, Jesus did not overthrow the political enemies of Israel; he triumphed over “the principalities and powers” that enslave humanity.

In Jesus, God is reconciling fallen men to Himself and has bequeathed the ministry of reconciliation to the Assembly. Since we have received mercy, who better to show mercy to our persecutors?

When persecution does come, we must not respond with rage, civil disobedience, or violence.  We cannot “overcome evil with evil.” When we react to hostility with rage and violence, Satan triumphs, and we demonstrate just whose disciple we are.



RELATED POSTS:
  • Suffering and Discipleship - (To follow Jesus requires the willingness to suffer for his sake, and enduring persecution is the highest honor imaginable in his Kingdom)
  • Cost of Discipleship - (To be the disciple of Jesus means taking up the cross and following in his footsteps, even if it results in impoverishment or death - Mark 6:7-30)
  • The Forgiveness of Sins - (Jesus healed a paralytic, and by doing so, he demonstrated the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins and discharge their due penalties – Mark 2:1-12)

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