One of the noteworthy signs that Jesus warned about, as occuring in the last generation was persecution of Christians.
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other." (Matthew 24:9-10).
To someone living in the United States of America, it may seem difficult to believe that intense persecution, as directed against Christians, takes place on a daily basis throughout much of the world. Voice of the Martyrs is one of many organizations that closely follows the issue of world-wide Christian persecution, and their stories are quite sobering. Countries such as Vietnam, China, Iran, Iraq, Afganistan, India, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt, Sudan, and Pakistan just to name a few. The list goes on and on.
Churches burned. Christians murdered. Orphanages attacked and children killed. Hidden, underground meeting places for bible study and prayer. Beatings. Imprisionment. Fear. Intimidation. This is daily life for a Christian in many of these regions.
It is generally accepted among those organizations who follow persecution - groups such as Voice of the Martyrs - that approximately 150,000 Christians are killed annually world-wide, simply because they choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Just for reading a bible. Just for going to a church. Just for praying to God. Just for becoming a Christian.
One may be tempted to argue that Christians have been persecuted throughout history. What makes this a sign now?
The answer is simple. The world has never seen persecution as it exists today. As a historical reference, one can review the period of Roman persecution, which started with Nero in 64 AD and lasted until the beginning of the fourth century; a period of approximately 250 years. Typically considered as the worst era of Christian persecution - it is estimated that approximately 100,000 Christians were killed because of their faith during that 250 year period.
That figure is now exceeded ANNUALLY. Thats is a staggering, mind-numbing figure. Over 150,000 Christians killed EVERY YEAR simply because of their faith. In Sudan alone, it is estimated that over 1.5 million Christians have been killed by the Janjaweed (an "Arab-Muslim militia"), just since 1984.
Unfortunately, and sadly, this "sign" doesn't receive much attention. But as you read this paragraph, during this very moment, we have brothers and sisters who are imprisioned, fearful, cold, hungry, beaten, starving and separated from their families - simply because they follow Jesus.
But Jesus is watching this situation and He is fully aware of what these brave, courageous saints are forced to endure. He has also promised them great rewards in Heaven:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..." (Matthew 5:10-11)
We need to pray for these brothers and sisters daily. Pray that God will give them strength and courage - that God will also give them comfort during their dark days.
Persecution. Another sign of the times.
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