TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

I.  The Persecution of God’s People

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Chapter 40  Part I

The Persecution of God’s People

The Bible warns that faithfully following God inevitably results in persecution and difficulties. In fact in a number of countries today severe persecution of Christians is common. Additionally, the Bible speaks of a time just prior to Jesus Christ’s return when persecution will be severe worldwide. But along with such warnings, the Bible gives wonderful and powerful promises of God’s care for his people in the face of persecution.

God’s People Face Persecution

Following God and Jesus Christ results in persecution . . .

2Tim 3:12  Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  NET

John 16:2-4a  [Jesus, to his disciples:] People will put you out of their synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God. 3They will do this because they have not known the Father and they have not known me. 4I have told you these things now so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.  NCV™

. . . It brings all kinds of hardships and suffering

Acts 14:22b  “We must endure many hardships to get into the kingdom of God.”  ISV

1Pet 1:6  [Peter, to believers:] This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials.  NET

Spreading the gospel can lead to opposition . . .

1Thes 2:2  [Paul, to the Thessalonian believers:] But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.  NET

. . . and spreading the gospel can result in persecution

Acts 5:40a  They called the apostles in, beat them, and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus again.  NCV™

2Tim 1:8  [Paul, to Timothy:] So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.  NET

God’s people are hated

John 15:18-19  [Jesus, to his disciples:] If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you out of the world, so you don’t belong to it. That is why the world hates you.  NCV™

God’s people may face plots against them

Acts 20:19  [Paul:] I humbly served the Lord, often with tears in my eyes. I served the Lord during the difficult times I went through when the Jews plotted against me.  GW

 Questions for Section A

Types of Persecution

Ridicule

Jer 20:7b-8  [Jeremiah:] Everyone ridicules me. 8For whenever I prophesy, I must cry out, “Violence and destruction are coming!” This message from the Lord has made me an object of continual insults and derision.  NET

Verbal abuse

Acts 18:6  But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to object to the statements made by Paul and even to abuse him.  ISV

Lies and slander

Matt 5:11  [Jesus:] God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me.  CEV

Ostracism and expulsion

Luke 6:22  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil on account of the Son of Man!  NET

Acts 13:50  But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.  NKJV

Imprisonment

Acts 8:3  But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.  NET

Beatings and violence

Acts 22:19  [Paul:] I replied, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat those in the various synagogues who believed in you.  NET

Heb 11:35b  But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life.  NET

Threat of death . . .

Acts 9:1  Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest …  NET

. . . and even death

Acts 22:4a  [Paul:] I made trouble for everyone who followed the Lord’s Way, and I even had some of them killed.  CEV

 Questions for Section B

The Antichrist and the Final Persecution

The Bible speaks of a figure of the end times that is opposed to God and Jesus Christ, and persecutes their people. Daniel has visions which contain figures that appear to be ultimately representative of such an individual. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 Paul clearly speaks of such a “man”. In his letters John refers to an “antichrist”. Most prominently, in Revelation John speaks of two “beasts” – accomplices of Satan – arising in the end times. The predominant first beast is correlated by many with a final antichrist, though others consider it and the second beast to represent evil world systems rather than individual persons. See also the comment on Revelation 13:1-2, 5-7 below in The antichrist will be of Satan and opposed to God.

The portrayals in both Daniel and Revelation are in apocalyptic literature and thus are highly symbolic. As such much of what is written is open to interpretation. The purpose is not to give precise details but enough knowledge so that when such events occur, believers will be able to recognize them for what they are. Furthermore the general concepts involved give encouragement to all God’s people, giving reason for hope amidst persecution in all eras.

Scripture speaks of the coming of an antichrist

2Thes 2:3b  Then before the Lord returns, the wicked one who is doomed to be destroyed will appear.  CEV

1Jn 2:18  [John, to believers:] Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour.  NET

The final antichrist will be preceded by many others who are anti-Christ – “now many antichrists have appeared”. False teachers could be primarily in view, but the designation is applicable at least to some degree to anyone who actively denies that Jesus is the Christ.

The antichrist will be of Satan and opposed to God

2Thes 2:9-10  The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 10and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved.  NET

Dan 11:36a  And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods.  ESV

Here “the king” is understood by many to represent the antichrist, as with “the lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 above.

The antichrist will have great authority and be worshiped

Rev 13:7b-8  He [the beast] was given ruling authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation, 8and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed.  NET

Persecution of God’s people will increase in the end times – especially due to the antichrist . . .

Matt 24:9  [Jesus, to his disciples:] Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.  NET

Rev 13:7a  The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them.  NET

. . . Martyrdom will be prominent

Rev 13:15  The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  NET

“Three and a half years” is given for the rule of the antichrist and intense persecution

Dan 7:25  He will speak against the Supreme God and oppress God’s people. He will try to change their religious laws and festivals, and God’s people will be under his power for three and a half years.  GNT

In regard to the duration of the antichrist’s rule and the future period of intense persecution of believers, the Bible speaks of periods of time which are equivalent to three and a half years. Whether or not this is a literal three and half years, such specifications are indicative of the period being predetermined by God.

The end of the antichrist

Rev 19:19-20  [John, describing a vision:] Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. 20Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf – signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur.  NET

In v. 19, “the one who rode the horse” is Jesus Christ, returning with his army of angels.

The outcome of submitting to the antichrist

Rev 14:9-11  [John, describing a vision:] A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark [of the beast] on his forehead or his hand, 10that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb. 11And the smoke from their torture will go up forever and ever, and those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night, along with anyone who receives the mark of his name.”  NET

 Questions for Section C

God’s Care of Persecuted Believers

God’s all-surpassing purpose, work and love for his people – despite adversity

Rom 8:28-31, 35-39  [Paul, to believers:] And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. 31What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? … 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  NET

The phrase “all things” (v. 28) probably primarily has in view adverse experiences, in particular persecution (cf. v. 18). In vv. 29-30 Paul proceeds to look beyond any suffering to the purpose and work of God for the believer that overshadows all difficulties we might experience in this life. Verse 31 is implying that if God is for us – as is emphatically shown (vv. 28-30) – there is no one (and no thing) of comparable significance that can be against us.

God and Jesus Christ strengthen their people amidst trials

2Tim 1:8b  [Paul, to Timothy:] Instead, take your part in suffering for the Good News, as God gives you the strength to do it.  GNT

2Cor 12:9b-10  [Christ, to Paul:] “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [Paul:] So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.  NET

In weakness, hardship and/or persecution (v. 10a) Christ’s power was perfected in Paul (v. 9). As such Paul could then say: “I am strong” (v. 10b).

God and Jesus Christ will rescue their people from trials . . .

Jer 15:20-21  [God, to Jeremiah:] I will make you as strong as a wall to these people, a fortified wall of bronze. They will attack you, but they will not be able to overcome you. For I will be with you to rescue you and deliver you,” says the Lord. 21“I will deliver you from the power of the wicked. I will free you from the clutches of violent people.”  NET

2Tim 4:18  [Paul:] The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will take me safely to his heavenly kingdom. Glory belongs to him forever and ever! Amen.  ISV

In light of vv. 6-8, which indicate that his death was near, it appears that Paul is not referring here to a physical rescue but a spiritual one – where Christ would bring him “safely to his heavenly kingdom”.

. . . as indeed they have rescued believers in the past

Dan 3:28  The king said, “Praise the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued these men who serve and trust him. They disobeyed my orders and risked their lives rather than bow down and worship any god except their own.  GNT

2Tim 3:11b  [Paul:] I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all.  NET

God will ultimately save believers from the persecution of the end times

Dan 7:21-22  [Daniel, describing a vision:] While I was watching, that horn began to wage war against the holy ones and was defeating them, 22until the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High. Then the time came for the holy ones to take possession of the kingdom.  NET

The “horn” is understood by many to represent the antichrist.

Note: God will take vengeance on those who persecute his people

2Thes 1:6-7  [Paul, to believers:] God will do what is right: he will bring suffering on those who make you suffer, 7and he will give relief to you who suffer and to us as well. He will do this when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven with his mighty angels, …  GNT

Rev 6:9-11  [John, describing a vision:] Now when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. 10They cried out with a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” 11Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been.  NET

 Questions for Section D

Pray for persecuted Christians