What Should Define Biblical Persecution?

Biblical persecution is defined by aggression and mistreatment of God’s people because of their identification with God, proclamation about God, and submission to God. But today, we are ultimately persecuted for the sake of Jesus’ name. This means that Jesus is the provocateur of the persecution we receive, because we identify with Him, proclaim Him and submit to Him. Thus, we rejoice if we are counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name.
Acts 5:41

Defining Biblical Persecution

  • What is “Biblical persecution”? Persecution in its simplest form is: the wicked attacking the righteous. More specifically, it is: any hostility, harm, harassment, death or any other ill-treatment towards believers because of their identification, proclamation, and submission in relation to God or His Son Jesus.
    • Identification—to identify with, associated with and embrace Jesus and God’s people. Some will be persecuted for: believing in Jesus; associating with the local church; publicly acknowledging their allegiance to Jesus about all else.
    • Proclamation—to proclaim, preach, and teach the gospel of Jesus and the Word of God. Some will be persecuted for: sharing the gospel with others; teaching the truths of the Bible; declaring “Thus saith the Lord” even when it is anti-cultural. 
    • Submission—to submit, obey, and yield to the teachings of Jesus (thus becoming like Him and imitating Him) and submitting to the will of God above all else. Some will be persecuted for: their righteous works; obeying the will of God as revealed in the Bible; submitting to the authority of God over the authority of man.
  • How will believers be persecuted? Jesus gives His disciples some examples of persecution that they can expect. We can be expected to be hated. Some believers will be betrayed by those closest to them (parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends) and might even be betrayed by all of them at the same time. They will persecute us by laying hands on us, delivering us up the authorities, putting us in prison, bringing us before kings and rulers and even putting us to death. Other types of persecution seen through the Bible include: beating, stoning, insults, slander, mocking, financial pressure, hard labour, ostracism, intimidation, threats, imprisonment, exile, and martyrdom.
    Luke 21:12-19; John 9:22; Acts 4:21, 29; 14:19; Revelation 1:9
  • What is the purpose of persecution? (1) For those who persecute believers, they want to destroy the spread of the gospel, stop people from believing in and following Jesus or they want to cause believers to renounce their faith in Jesus. (2) For those who are the persecuted believers, it allows us to identify with Jesus (meaning we are treated like Him because we are genuine followers of His), it gives us a special opportunity to be a witness, and it produces characteristics in our life that help in our spiritual transformation.
    John 15:20-27; Luke 21:12-19; Romans 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 12:10

Defining The Provocateur Of Persecution

  • Jesus is the provocateur of persecution—meaning that ultimately persecution is because of our relationship with Jesus. He is the ultimate and underlying reason for persecution. Jesus told His disciples they would be persecuted and hated for “His name’s sake”.
    Matthew 10:22; 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:12, 17; John 15:18-21; 1 Peter 4:14; Acts 9:16; Romans 8:36
  • Jesus gave us an example of suffering to follow. We are “called” to follow in Jesus’ steps. He suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow. To believe in Jesus is to know Him. To know Jesus is to identify with Him. To identify with Jesus means to act like Him—thus opening the door to be treated in the same manner that He was by this wicked world. Thus, we can know “the fellowship of His sufferings”. We are “joint-heirs with Christ”—meaning that we will receive the same inheritance—to be glorified together, but before that, we will “suffer with Him”.
    Romans 8:17-18; Philippians 3:8-11; 1 Peter 2:19-21; 4:13
  • Jesus is the reason we are wiling to suffer persecution. Persecution isn’t something that we seek out but it is a natural result of following Jesus. Thus, our allegiance to Jesus means that we are willing to suffer persecution for Him. Paul also exemplified this saying that he was ready not only to be imprisoned but to even die “for the name of the Lord Jesus”. Are we ready to suffer for Jesus? To what degree are we called to suffer on the behalf of Christ? Paul tells the Philippians, they were called to suffer for Jesus, “Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” They probably had heard how Paul and Silas had been seized, dragged before the authorities, attacked, beaten and thrown into jail. Today, we know all of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings. Thus, we should be willing to suffer any type of persecution, even death, for Jesus’ sake.
    Acts 16:19-40; 21:10-14; Philippians 1:30; Paul’s Persecutions: 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28

Clarifying Confusion About Persecution

  • Persecution is suffering, but not all suffering is persecution. Thus, there is a limit on what can be considered Biblical persecution. Consider the following: (1) Mankind lives in a fallen world and as such there is suffering that believers will have to endure, not because of their faith in Jesus or obedience to God but just because of the natural consequence of the fall. (2) Mankind sins and sin has consequences. Peter tells us not to suffer because of wrongdoings but for our right-doings—being a Christian. (3) Persecution is not punishment for sin.
    1 Peter 2:20; 4:15-16
  • When we talk about Biblical persecution, we are not talking about human rights or what many consider to be “grey area issues” (believers will apply these areas differently), but instead we are talking about the clear and unchanging mandates of the will of God with a focus on the current mandates given to the New Testament church.
  • “Direct persecution” means the reason for the suffering is very clearly expressed by the person doing the persecution. “Indirect persecution” means the reason for the suffering isn’t very clearly expressed by the person doing the persecution, but the reason for the person being persecuted is still within the acceptable definition of Biblical persecution. For example: Paul and Silas cast a demon out of a salve girl and when her owners saw that the hope of their gains was gone they seized them, brought them before the authorities where they were beat and cast into prison.
    Acts 16:16-40

Review Questions

  • What are the three reason why believers are persecuted?
  • What are some ways believers could be persecuted?
  • What is the purpose of persecution for both sides?
  • Who is the provocateur of persecution and what are its applications?
  • Is all suffering persecution? Why?

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