What Is The Biblical Framework For Persecution?

The Biblical framework for persecution starts at the foundation: the wicked persecute the righteous. From the fall of man until now, the wicked have been attacking the righteous. They persecuted and killed Jesus, the Righteous One, and they will continue to persecute His church, but it will never be defeated because Jesus has already secured the victory.

The Foundation: The Wicked Persecutes The Righteous

  • Foundation: In the beginning God creates mankind. He creates mankind in His image. They were created good and innocent. But He gave them a single command to obey. They had a free choice to obey or disobey God. Mankind chose to disobey God. Mankind was separated from God and was sent out of the garden. Sin, death, and evil entered into the world and was passed upon all people. Thus, mankind was living in a wicked world where there is a divide between two competing “families”—the family of God and the family of Satan. But God promised to defeat Satan and his followers (unbelievers) through the offspring of the woman (Jesus). But this doesn’t come without persecution, because although Jesus will crush Satan’s head (eternal damnation), Satan will strike His heel (suffering). From this point forward, Satan and his family desired to persecute God and His family (believers).
    Genesis 1:1, 27, 31; 2:8, 17; 3:6, 15, 24; Romans 5:12; John 8:39-47; 1 John 3:8
  • History: Thus, as we study the Bible we should see this struggle between these two “families”—it is the attack of the wicked against the righteous. And this is exactly what we find from the Old Testament throughout the New Testament. This truth is highlighted when Jesus was calling out the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They were saying they wouldn’t persecuted God’s family, but they were actually already scheming to kill Jesus. In fact, they were the children of those who murdered the prophets and stoned the people that were sent to Jerusalem. Jesus names the first and last martyrs of the Old Testament and says there was even more “righteous blood shed upon the earth” in between these two. Below are examples of persecution that Jesus was referring to.
    Matthew 23:29-39
    • “The blood of righteous Abel” (Cain kills Abel)—After the fall of mankind, we see the first instance of the wicked attacking the righteous. Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” as an offering unto the Lord, but Cain brought some produce as an offering unto the Lord. Their different offerings symbolize different heart attitudes towards God. Thus, God only accepted Abel’s offering and rejects Cain’s offering. Abel’s actions were righteous and Cain’s wicked, thus He attacked and killed his brother. Abel was murdered for righteously obeying God.
      Genesis 4:1-12; 1 John 3:12
    • In-between examples—In the Old Testament we have other examples martyrdom and persecution amount the prophets, priest and the people of God: (1) The slaying of the 85 priest; (2) Jezebel cut off the prophets; (3) Elijah; (4) Prophets killed; (5) Elisha; (6) Hanani;(7) Micaiah; (8) Zechariah is stoned to death; (9) Mordecai and the Jews; (10) Jeremiah; (11) Uriah; (12) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; (13) Daniel in the lion’s den; (14) Amos.
      Luke 11:50-51; (1) 1 Samuel 22:1-23; (2) 1 Kings 18:3-4; Revelation 2:20; (3) 1 Kings 18:10-19:4; (4) 1 Kings 19:10,14; (5) 2 Kings 6:31; (6) 2 Chronicles 16:7-10; (7) 1 Kings 22: 5-6; 22:23-27; 2 Chronicles 18:12-26; (8) 2 Chronicles 24:20-22; (9) Ester 3:1-12; 5:14; (10) Jeremiah 1:19; 11:18-23; 15:15; 17:18; 20:1-3, 7-11; 37:15-16; 38:4-6; (11) Jeremiah 26:20-23; (12) Daniel 3:1-30; (13) Daniel 6:1-28; (14) Amos 7:10-12
    • “The blood of Zacharias son of Barachias”—By the end of the Old Testament, we have a prophet who declares God’s word and was murdered (probably stoned) between the temple and the altar. Zacharias was murdered for righteously obeying God.
      2 Chronicles 24:20-22 (“Zechariah the son of Jehoiada”—might be this person, but we aren’t sure, but really similar)
  • Continuation: Then Jesus prophesies saying that He will send “prophets, and wise men, and scribes” unto them, but that they would also “kill and crucify” some of them, “scourge” some of them in their synagogues and “persecute them from city to city”. Thus, persecution wasn’t going to just be something that happened in the Old Testament but it was going to continue into the New Testament. John the Baptist would be the first martyr of the New Testament. Jesus would be the first martyr of the church.
    Matthew 23:34; John the Baptist: Matthew 14:1-12; Jesus: Matthew 27:32-56

Jesus, The Righteous One, Was Persecuted And Killed

  • Jesus exemplified that a righteous life would be persecuted by the wicked. Jesus not only prophesied continuing persecution for God’s people, but as the Righteous One, He exemplified what it meant to bear persecution and eventually death for righteousness sake. He was plotted against, betrayed, denied, interrogated, mocked, on trail, and finally murdered on the cross. He became the first martyr of the church.
    Luke 9:21-22; 24:44-49; Acts 3:13-15; 7:51-53; Romans 15:3; Ephesians 5:25; (Jesus’ persecutions: Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16; 47-56; 58, 69-75; 27:1-31; 27:35-38; Conspiracy to kill Jesus: Mark 3:6; 11:15-18; Luke 4:28-30; John 5:16; Jesus’ Suffering had a purpose: 1 Peter 2:24-25)
  • Jesus expected His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him. Not only did Jesus exemplify what bearing persecution looks like, but foretold that everyone who becomes His disciples will also have to bear the persecuted life—because we are followers of the Righteous One and the wicked are still persecuting the righteous until the final day. Afflictions, trials, and persecutions are part of the Christian life and can be expected in a disciple of Christ just as evident as it was in the life of Christ.
    Luke 9:23-27; 21:12; (Even persecution from family: Matthew 10:34-39; Psalm 27:10)

The Church Will Always Be Persecuted, But Never Defeated

  • Inception: In the first mention of the church, the church is described as a “persecuted but victorious church”. Jesus says that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Thus, in a sense, Jesus is saying that the church will be attacked by the wicked, but none of these attacks will overcome it—even the worst of attacks “the gates of hell” (murder, death, martyrdom). The “gates of hell” resemble the place that holds the human soul prisoner at death. This means that the “power of death” will not overpower the church. Death is strong, its gates hold the dead within and people do not come back from it. But Jesus will overcome death by His resurrection from the dead and pave the way for all members of the church to do the same. Thus, Jesus is the church’s Foundation, Builder, Owner, Victor and He declares that even though His church will be persecuted, He will triumphantly build His church in this world—it will never be overpowered or cease to exist because of persecution or martyrdom.
    Matthew 16:18; 1 John 4:4
  • Established: After the local church was started and established they went forward fulfilling the great commission by making disciples of all nations—and they also started to be persecuted. After Jesus, Stephen would become the next person in the church to be martyred—he was the first martyr of the disciples (Christians). James was the first martyred among the apostles. Peter and Paul were also two notable men who were persecuted in the New Testament Church. Thus, persecution and suffering is part of God’s plan to accomplish His will in evangelizing the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Acts 7:54-60; 14:22; Stephen: Acts 6:8-7:60; James: Acts 12:1-2; Peter: Acts 12:3-5; Paul: 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
  • Victorious: Jesus didn’t want them to worry or live in fear but to have peace. Even though in this wicked world believers and the church will have tribulation, we are to be of “good cheer”—meaning to have confidence in Jesus because He has “overcome the world”. God has given us the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    John 16:33; Romans 5:17; 1 Corinthians 15:56-58; 2 Corinthians 5:21

Review Questions

  • What is the foundational principle of persecution?
  • What is the basic history of persecution in the Bible?
  • Does persecution continue in the New Testament? Why?
  • Who is the Righteous One? What happened to Him?
  • Will the church be persecuted and defeated?

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