Robert Jeffress - When Persecution Comes
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. To many Christians, persecution is something that happens in a far-off place, like Asia or in the Middle East. But in reality, persecution is already taking place in America. Politicians and lobbyists are working hard to silence the voice of Christians in the public square. New laws and legislation are limiting our religious freedom, and the Bible teaches that hostility toward Christians is bound to get worse. Today, I'm going to offer three essential words to help you prepare for the persecution ahead. My message is titled, "When Persecution Comes" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Any Christian who seriously takes God's command to be light and salt in this dark and decaying world needs to understand you may not and will not always receive justice, but you always can be guaranteed to receive persecution. Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good courage: I have overcome the world". The apostle Paul, who before his conversion, had been an instrument of persecution against Christians, almost overnight became a target of persecution.
In 2 Corinthians 11, he details some of the suffering that he experienced as a Christian. He said in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, "Five time I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked: a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I've been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the gentiles, dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren: I've been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure". That was Paul's experience.
Or listen to the experience of the first-century Christians that followed Paul. As the writer of Hebrews notes, "Believers were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others experienced scourgings, yes, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, men of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground".
Now, when we read passages like that, let's be honest, we try to assure ourselves that we won't have to go through that kind of suffering, because after all, we live in a different time in history. And yet, it's pointed out that more Christians died as martyrs in the 20th century than all the other centuries combined, Christians around the world. The reason we in the west, in America specifically, feel immune from this kind of suffering is, we live in a self-made bubble. We're not aware of what is happening to Christians around the world today. For example, since 2003, Iraqi Christians have been frequent targets by Islamic extremists. In Iran, authorities arrested 70 Christians over a six-week period of time, in an effort to target grassroots Christian groups. In January of 2011, a judge in Afghanistan told Shoaib Assadullah that if he did not renounce Christ within one week, he would face up to 20 years in prison or even be sentenced to death.
Today, more Christians are imprisoned in China than in any other country in the world. Hundreds of thousands of believers are detained in work camps each year without even a court order so that they can participate in, "a re-education through labor program" as the Chinese like to call it. The only legal churches allowed by the Chinese government are those controlled by the government. Those who meet in house churches not sanctioned by the government risk torture, imprisonment, and death. Philip Yancey describes a visit with pastor Allen Yuan, who helped to found the house church movement in China during the Japanese occupation. Pastor Yuan was 90 years old at the time of his interview. He had spent 22 years in prison, he had been tortured and spent months in solitary confinement in a windowless cell.
Listen to what he said to Philip Yancey. He said, "I pulled blankets over my head and prayed. For 10 years no letters from my family got through. I had no Bible, but a few passages and Psalms stayed with me". Yuan spent 13 years of a sentence in China's most northern province. He said, "It was a miracle. I had only a light jacket and in the freezing winter weather I never caught a cold or the flu, not sick a single day".
Pastor Yuan is convinced that persecution for Christians is not only an evitable, but profitable for believers. Listen to what this pastor said. He said, "We live in a time like the apostles. Christians are persecuted, yes, but look at the Hong Kong and Taiwan church, they have prosperity, but they don't seek God. I tell you, I came out of that prison with faith stronger than I went in. Like Joseph, we don't know why we go through hard times until later looking back. Think of it, we in China may soon have the largest Christian community in the world, and in an atheistic state that tried to stamp us out".
Christians experienced intense sufferings in the first century. They are now experiencing suffering around the world. The Bible also predicts that in the final years before Christ's return, Christians will also experience unprecedented hardship. The apostle John describes a large group of believers who would be slain during the tribulation. In Revelation 6:9, he says, "And when he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar, the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony that they had maintained". Of course the instigator of this persecution will be the antichrist. In Revelation 13:7 John says, "And it was given to him, the antichrist, to make war with the saints and overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him".
The special target of antichrist persecution will be Christians. What way will antichrist make war with God's people? One way he will do so, is by restricting the purchase of necessary goods and services for survival to those who agree to worship him. You know, from our study in the Revelation that antichrist will have a lieutenant, a right hand man known as the false prophet, who will enforce this global mandate to worship the antichrist. This false prophet will mandate that everyone has to receive a mark of some kind that will demonstrate his allegiance to antichrist if he wants to purchase any good or any service.
Think of commodities like food, think of services like health care. In Revelation 14:16-18, John says, "And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the freemen and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one should be able to buy or sell except the one who has the mark either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for that number is that of a man: and his number is 666".
Author Grant Jeffrey claims that the technology to essentially barcode human beings like you do a bottle of toothpaste or a book, is already available through radio-frequency identification chips. Grant Jeffrey writes, "Using the existing technology, the mark or number 666 can be implanted under the skin of every person using an RFID microchip. A powerful electronic scanner could detect the chip from a distance and reveal all of your personal information far more than your name, address, age and marital status. While the implanted microchip and its information would be readable by a radio frequency scanner, a person would not know when or where his private information was being accessed, or who was accessing the information".
David Jeremiah envisions the possibility of long lines of Christians waiting in the supermarket to purchase food and praying for a miracle that that scanner will somehow not notice that they do not possess the required identification. Now such a thought is not just fanciful imagination. It is guaranteed reality if you take seriously the Revelation from John. If we know that Christians in past ages have suffered persecution, if we know that Christians around the world are now suffering persecution, if we know there is a time coming in the future when every believer will suffer persecution, doesn't it make sense that we who live in America are also going to face a time of persecution as well?
We know that the last seven years of earth's history will be intense persecution for every believer in the world. Listen to Jesus' words in Matthew 24:36, Jesus said, talking about his return, "But of that day or hour no one knows not even the angels nor the sun nor Harold camping, but the Father alone". Seeing if you are awake. Nobody knows when Christ is coming back. That preacher out in California, now he's been wrong a third time. He said the rapture is going to happen October 21st. Boy, he is so lucky he doesn't live in the Old Testament times. You know, Deuteronomy 18 says, "If you make one false prophecy you're to be stoned to death". He's made three at least. Somebody ought to muzzle that guy, if they don't stone him anyway, tell him to be quiet. Nobody knows, nobody knows.
But I want you to notice something, what this text says, no one knows the day or the hour, but God knows the day and the hour, which means there is a day and an hour fixed on God's calendar when the Lord is going to return. And that means that every second that passes means we are moving toward that great climactic event. And that means every second that passes, we are moving toward this time of Great Tribulation and persecution against believers on the earth.
Now, I think it's important to define terms here. What do we mean by persecution? By persecution, I'm talking about any negative consequences you experience for being salt, that is restraining evil, or by being light and trying to share the Gospel with other people. Now, obviously, there is a spectrum of persecution that people experience. That spectrum can range from not being invited to a dinner party because you're too opinionated, all the way to being tortured and even executed because you don't recant your faith. There is a spectrum of persecution.
And I want to suggest to you tonight that the degree to which you as a Christian will experience persecution is dependent upon two factors. First of all, the intensity of your conviction will determine the intensity of the persecution you face. Let me say it again, the intensity of your conviction will determine the intensity of the persecution you face. The pastor who never preaches against homosexuality or abortion or talks about the exclusivity of the Gospel will never face ridicule from the media. The Christian student who refuses to challenge his non-Christian professor's erroneous teaching will never have to worry about a lower grade. A believer who decides not to offend his non-Christian parents, by sharing the Gospel with them, will never risk experiencing their disapproval. The intensity of your conviction will determine the intensity of the persecution you experience.
Secondly, the extent of the persecution you face is determined by the spiritual climate of the culture in which you live. The extent of the persecution you face is also determined by the spiritual climate of the culture in which you live. Thursday night, we had another one of our dinners with the pastorate and 200 folks there, half of them were prospectors, great evening. But during the question and answer time somebody asked me the question, he said, "Pastor, do you think this world is getting worse"? I said, "Well, worse than what"? I mean, is our culture more decadent, more ungodly than that of the first century during the Roman Empire? Well, no. But as our culture, especially in America more ungodly than it was 40 or 50 or 100 years ago, the answer would be yes.
In fact, if you don't believe that the culture in which we are living right now in America is more ungodly than it has been in the past, I want you to ask yourself, how the American people, especially the media, would respond, if the president of the United States made these remarks during a televised speech from the oval office. Quote, "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I didn't believe and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God, and that those principles of liberty are unalterable as human nature". Can you imagine how people would respond if the president said, "This country was founded on Christian principles," why? There would be howls and cries and calls of impeachment all around the country. And yet, those are the words that were spoken by the second president of the United States, John Adams.
We have become increasingly hostile toward Christianity in our country. Now, secularists would attribute that change to our nation's collective open mindedness and tolerance. They would say we now are much more sophisticated than earlier generations. We recognize that there are multiple paths to God and no one religion can claim exclusivity. Biblicists would say no, it is Romans 1 in action. Because our nation has rejected the truth of God, we have fallen into a time of darkening in our understanding. But regardless of the reason, I think even the most casual observer realizes that our culture is more hostile toward Christianity than at any other time in our nation's history. And realizing that that negativity and hostility is more likely to increase than it is to subside, means we ought to get ready for persecution.
How should we respond to the escalating attacks against Christians? How do we get ready for persecution? In Hebrews 10:25, the writer says, "We ought to encourage one another: and all the more as we see the day drawing near". Now, one way we can encourage one another as Christians is to help prepare one another for this inevitable time of persecution. And that's what I want to do in these moments tonight. Tonight I want to share with you three words that I believe are essential in strengthening yourself and preparing for the coming persecution that every genuine follower of Christ will experience.
The first word and write it down, is the word CERTAIN. Suffering is certain. The first recorded case of persecution against Christians as a whole, occurred under emperor Nero in 64 A.D. On the night of June 18th, a great fire erupted in Rome destroying 10 of the 14 sections of the city. Many believe that Nero himself set the fires. But to deflect blame from himself, he blamed Christians. And he was able to devise the most heinous tortures imaginable for believers. One thing he would do, would be to take Christians while they were alive, immerse them in wax and then set them on fire to serve as human torches to illuminate his gardens. However, as in our culture, this awful persecution against Christians didn't happen suddenly. Instead, it happened progressively.
Nero was allowed by the population to commit these atrocities against Christians, because as the historian, Tacitus notes, "Christians were already a class hated for the abominations by the populace". There was a growing hatred toward Christians that finally allowed Nero to commit these heinous crimes against believers. And you know, I believe in our culture, you see this growing hatred toward Christians that is festering and is being fueled by the media by using the stereotypes of what Christians are. Just watch the media. Notice it how any evangelical Christian in a sitcom or a movie is portrayed. And it is this growing animosity toward believers that is going to pave the way for a general acceptance in our culture of the persecution against Christians.
Most scholars agree that the apostle Peter wrote his letter one year before Nero began his empire wide persecution of believers. But listen to what Peter said in 1 Peter 4:12-13. He said, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing we're happening to you. But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that at the Revelation of his glory, you may rejoice with exultation".
"Do not be surprised," Peter says. Now, I have to confess to you, those words hit me between the eyes every time I read them. Do not be surprised. Because quite frankly, when I begin to suffer, especially suffer any consequences because of obedience to God, I'm surprised. I mean, it kind of knocks me for a loop. When I start to suffer negative consequences for my faith, I mean, my first reaction is God, what's wrong? Are you asleep at the wheel? Don't you see what's happening to me? Oh God, I think you're making a tremendous mistake. I'm supposed to be rewarded, not persecuted for what I'm doing. Oh God, if this is how you're going to treat your friends, no wonder you're having such a hard time getting a following these days.
And I'm not the only one who feels that way. You know, when hit with hardships, many Christians appear dazed and confused. They walk around in a spiritual stupor, wondering what's wrong? Why is this happening to me? They are shocked that obeying Christ has resulted in an alienation from friends or the loss of a job or even the breakup of a marriage. The truth is, we ought to be more surprised if we're not suffering for our faith.
See, Peter says persecution is the rule rather than the exception for those who have chosen to follow Christ. Beyond being surprised, many Christians get disillusioned with a God who would allow them to suffer for doing not the wrong thing, but for doing the right thing. After all, in Psalm 3, we sing this song, you know, "God is my shield, my shield, my defender, my protector, he's going to keep bad things from happening". And yet, when they do happen to us, we think, man, God, you need a bigger shield or something. This isn't right. God, if you're really protecting me, why would you allow this to happen to me?
And yet, all you have to do is look at how God dealt with his own Son, his beloved Son, to get a different perspective on persecution. You see, suffering is not an unexpected detour in God's plan for your life. It is actually a part of God's calling for your life. That's a calling most of us would like to ignore. Or forward to somebody else to receive. But if suffering was part of God's plan for his own Son, why are we surprised when God plans it for us as well?