Christian persecution was one of the end times signs that Jesus warned us about. In the Olivet Discourse, given in Matthew 24, Jesus gave the following statement:
"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...Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold." (Matthew 24:9-12).
Persecution is a story that could be told on a daily basis, with extensive references. I am guilty, as most of us are, of not covering this story more frequently. Insulated from most forms of persecution in the U.S., its hard to imagine a world in which even the mention of Christianity can have you imprisioned and tortured. When I was a medical intern at the University of Florida, I met a physician who had escaped from Cuba and his stories of Christian persecution in Cuba were horrifying.
As mentioned before on this blog, the various Christian organizations who track persecution all estimate that approximately 150,000 Christians are killed annually, simply for practicing their faith. A stunning number - but what is more stunning is the silence from the media on this topic. Perhaps even more disturbing is the ongoing silence from the Church on this topic.
Just taking one glimpse of daily headlines from "persecution.com" also known as "Voice of the Martyrs" reveals the following disturbing headlines:
"Uzbekistan: Believers Arrested"
"Belarus: Church Evicted"
"Nigeria: Pastors Beheaded"
"Bangladesh: Pastor Tortured by Police"
"Pakistan: Eight Believers Killed"
"China: Youth Camp Raided"
"Pakistan: Muslims Attack Christians"
"Eritrea: Christian Dies in Prison"
"China: Pastor Sent to Labor Camp"
"China: Persecution Increases"
"Iraq: Seven Churches Bombed"
And on and on it goes. This is just a small sample of the persecution occuring world-wide. We see it creeping into America as well, in more subtle ways, but forever increasing. Christians in the U.S. are marginalized, scoffed at, and ridiculed on a daily basis - so much that we have become accustomed to it and often accept it.
We must also remember what the words of prophecy have told us. As we approach the Tribulation, and as we watch the stage being set for the coming anti-christ, we know that evil will increase. Lets look at the scriptures.
"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan..." (1 Thessalonians 9)
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
The stage is being set for the arrival of the antichrist and the beginning of the Tribulation. The world is becoming darker and darker; but we were warned about this in the prophetic scriptures. We shouldn't expect otherwise, as the world needs to be prepared for the antichrist and his temporary rule. This "preparation" is ongoing and it will continue and become worse as we approach the Tribulation. In fact, Jesus further warned about the Tribulation in His Olivet Discourse:
"For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world..." (Matthew 24:21).
Fortunately, a literal view of the scriptures confirm that the Church will have been removed before this Tribulation begins (1 Thess. 1:10, 1 Thess. 5:9, 2 Peter 2:9, Revelation 3:10, etc.) in clear, unambiguous terms.
In the meanwhile, we must pray and pray for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted at this very moment. Imprisioned, tortured, terrorized, starved, beheaded, churches burned, families separated - yet these courageous brothers and sisters continue to preach the gospel in these parts of the world.
Lets pray that God will give them strength and comfort as they endure this persecution. It should be part of our daily prayers.
But the story doesn't end there. Two closing thoughts:
1. God is watching and has promised eternal rewards for these brave Christians. According to Jesus:
"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 5:11-12).
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you...If they persecuted me they will persecute you also...They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you." (John 15: 18-23 and John 16:3)
2. Even though we must currently witness the rise of world-wide evil, including the persecution of the Saints - in anticipation of the coming antichrist - we know how the story ends for the antichrist and his temporary reign:
"But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom..." (Daniel 7:26-27).
To close, the apostle Paul gave us encouraging words, found in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58:
"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain."