WATCH OUT FOR PERSECUTION AND PERSEVERE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 17, 2013
9 But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
-- Mark 13:9-13, ESV
Mark 13, the Olivet Discourse, tells us what to watch out for when we are watching out for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Even though Christ’s prophecy primarily pointed to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70, there are dual references and downright predictions that pertain to the blessed hope, the second advent, the return of our Lord to earth. The first warning in this chapter waved a flag at false messiahs (vs. 1-8), whose false messages rarely touch true believers because we can spot them and ignore them, lest they do us any harm. This second warning, however, tells us about something that will touch the life of every follower of Christ in a painful yet redeeming way (vs. 9-13). It is persecution, it fulfills prophecy, and it calls for perseverance on the part of every true saint of God.
Contrary to the health and wealth messages of the false prophets of these latter days, the genuine Christian life is genuinely filled with problems and pain. Often, the deeper you walk with Christ, the deeper your problems and pain. Gospel faith is no inoculation from suffering, trials, tribulation, and persecution. Let me distinguish these four things and elaborate on the fourth, since persecution is what this particular text is all about.
All Christians suffer, meaning that all of us have to endure times of physical sickness and suffering, either directly or in the life of someone we love. Often we are hit with family, financial, or other hardships, which are by no means due to our lack of faith or diligence. Suffering can be our fault, someone else’s fault, or nobody’s fault in particular. If I get lung cancer because I smoke two packs a day, it’s my fault. It I get lung cancer from the second hand smoke of my spouse who smokes two packs a day, it is their fault. It I get lung cancer in spite of the fact I don’t smoke or deliberately engage in other cancer-causing behaviors, then it is nobody’s fault in particular, but I’ll suffer just the same. Christians are humans, too, and suffering is part and parcel of the human experience for us all, whether we have faith or not.
All Christians go through trials, which are peculiar pains put forth upon people of faith, either by the providence of God, the personal attacks of Satan, or a combination of the two. Look at the life of Job in the Old Testament, or a million other examples scripturally, historically, and personally. Trials are for believers only, and they serve to strengthen our faith by making us love the things of this world a little bit less and love the things of God a whole lot more. I would expect that you are experiencing a trial right now, or you’ve just gone through one, or there is one waiting for you just around the corner.
All Christians live through tribulation, for this is our promise from Christ (ref. John 16:33). A tribulation is a period of time, with a fairly definite start and finish, during which we are put under duress because of our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a time when it seems that the world has turned against us, because it has. Like the trials contained in them, tribulations come and go in our lives. In the greatest sense, I believe the entirety of the New Covenant, the time between the first coming and second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is one “great tribulation” period between the forces of God and good and the forces of Satan and evil. Others see a specific tribulation of seven years just before the return of Jesus Christ. I think it is safe to say that tribulation is happening and tribulation is coming. The world puts it upon Christians every day; and, one day Christ is going to put it on the world.
The point I want to make most plainly, for it is the plain point of this text, is that godly Christians will experience ungodly persecution. Persecution is the threat or actual attack of an unbeliever or unbelieving entity against a true believer for the express purpose of stopping the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironically, it always backfires and fans the flame of the gospel forward. If we are not suffering persecution, then one of two things are true. Either we are living in a protected pocket or period mostly devoid of persecution (see the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13, or a good Southern town in the U.S.A. with a church on every corner); or, we are not making the proper effort to live and preach the gospel so that other people will come to faith in Christ.
Obviously, Jesus and His disciples were trying to get the gospel out in their world. So, their world came crashing down against them in bitter persecution. This persecution, according to verse 10, actually helped further the gospel. This was certainly true at Jesus’ first advent and its immediate aftermath. Apparently, the same kind of intense persecution will come again before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Persecution and Prophecy
Consider Jesus’ prophetic promise to His four faithful disciples and the early Christians they represented. They will be arrested, beaten, put on trial, betrayed by family members, put to death, and hated on top of all that. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for a faith like that? Well, they did, for at that time they were all in, and intended to stay in. Let the persecution begin!
It began with the crucifixion of Christ. After the resurrection, persecution hounded every Apostle to their death. The persecutions Jesus depicted in these verses read like the biography of Peter, James, John, Andrew, the Apostle Paul, and almost all the leaders of the early church. By the time the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, all of them, except for John, had become a martyr for their gospel faith.
This forty-year period of persecution may have been the first and worst of church history. It came from a double-barrel shot-gun, Jewish and Roman. After the Jewish nation was virtually abolished by the Romans, the Roman part of the persecution remained until Constantine made Christianity legal at the beginning of the 4th century. But the fact is that all of Jesus’ prophetic words about persecution came true between the time He uttered them in AD 30 and AD 70 when the Temple was destroyed.
This was a sign, something to watch out for, before the Temple was destroyed. And this will be a sign, something to watch out for, again, before Jesus comes again (ref. Matthew 24:3). Now remember, there has been and will be persecution as long as their is Christianity. It did not end in AD 70, nor with the Edict of Milan in 313, nor with the Great Reformation, nor with the founding of freedom of religion in the United States of America. However, persecution of the kinds Jesus described in this chapter will increase in intensity as the end of time draws near. The 20th century buried more martyrs in China, Russia, the Middle East, and other parts of the world than all the martyrs in all the world during the previous 19 centuries. Now as we progress through the 21st century, what will be the cost of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will it be loss of job and income, loss of family and friends, loss of citizenship and rights, or even the loss of life? What will be the cost of Christianity in our lifetime, and will we be willing to pay the price?
Persecution and Perseverance
I certainly hope so, for in the words of Jesus, only “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (ref. vs. 13).
Suffering cannot make a believer quit believing. Trials only make belief more believable. Tribulation ironically offers assurance of salvation. But persecution is the biggest test of all, and a test you do not want to fail. And if you are a true Christian, you will not.
You may stumble at times, but you fill not fall. Simon Peter stumbled in the courtyard of the high priest, but he did not fall. He denied the Lord in one episode, but the the complete series of his life, he was a champion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all stumble when we downplay our Christian faith in order to gain acceptance or enjoy sin. We all stumble when we refuse to speak up and speak out when the opportunity for Christian testimony and witness presents itself. We all stumble, but we cannot fall if we have fallen into the arms of Christ by grace through faith in Him and His finished work. The Holy Spirit in us is greater than anyone or any entity that will persecute us. He, the Holy Spirit, will empower us to speak and live for Christ in the midst of persecution.
The doctrine of the perseverance of true saints, even in the face of persecution, is as old as the preaching of Jesus Himself (ref. John 10:28). It is part and parcel of the grand doctrine of salvation by grace (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10). It is due to the power of the Lord and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer (ref. Philippians 1:6). And it is sealed in the Lamb’s book of life, written before the foundation of the world (ref. Revelation 13:8).
Therefore, I do not think Jesus punctuated this prophecy on persecution with a conditional promise (If you endure, you will be saved), but rather an indicative promise (you are one of the ones who will endure, because you are one of the ones who are saved).
You do not have to seek out persecution. You need to watch out for persecution. If you live and preach the gospel, it will find you. It comes because of and for the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And if you are living near the day of Christ’s return, it will find you in bushels. Do not be afraid to lose, a friend, a family member, a job, even your life, for you are never a loser in Christ. What you gain, the reward of your eternal soul and perhaps a reward in the souls saved because of your witness, is the eternal worth of any temporary persecution you may have to suffer on earth. Watch out for persecution and persevere!