Beware: Expect Persecution

Beware: Expect Persecution

Beware: Expect Persecution. 

“As for yourselves, beware! For they will hand you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my Name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  (Mark 13:9-13, NRSV).

Mark 13 is often called the Olivet Discourse. Jesus has gathered His disciples around as He sits on the Mount of Olives. He has decided to explore the future with His disciples as He unpacks His thoughts about the end times and His second coming. He wants His followers to be alert and watchful, to be ready for anything.

Right in the middle of this prophetic discourse Jesus alerts His followers to the threat of persecution in the future. Watch out! He tells them. Be prepared. You will be persecuted by the local councils and the synagogues. You will be brought to trial before important government officials. And this will happen because you follow Me! Jesus says. Your very identity will be so wrapped up in me that they’ll treat you like they treat me, He says. So don’t be surprised when this  happens. Don’t be caught off-balance. I’m giving you fair warning ahead of time so you won’t be shocked and thrown off stride.

And His prophetic warnings certainly became true. All the disciples were indeed persecuted. The only one of the Twelve who wasn’t martyred for the Faith was John, who nonetheless spent a long lonely time in exile on a Roman penal island. The Book of Acts details the many ways Jesus’ words became true. Christian tradition, for example, highlights the fact that both Peter and Paul appeared before the emperor Nero before they were martyred. All of what Jesus said became true then, and it continues to be true to this very day.

In the midst of this dire warning, Jesus offers a word of assurance and comfort. Don’t worry about what you’ll say as you stand in trial, Jesus says. “Simply speak what the Holy Spirit gives you at that very moment. And realize that it won’t be you speaking, but the Holy Spirit repeatedly speaking through you.” (Mark13:8, TPT).

And then Jesus announces something we witness today in our society: the complete breakdown of the family unit. The family structure will disintegrate to the point of betrayal between siblings and between parents and children. There will be terrible disloyalty when it comes to how families handle the Name of Jesus. The Name of Christ will divide families right down the middle, separating them and creating enemies between flesh and blood.

So how do believers on trial for their faith act in this crisis? What attitude should persecuted followers of Jesus have as they stand before their accusers? As someone who has not been persecuted for his faith, I don’t have the right to advise anyone here. I could easily be glib, I could merely spout cliches, I could even unthinkingly be judgmental as we note how persecuted believers are “supposed” to act. It’s easy for me to say, don’t be fearful, as they harm your loved ones or stand you up before the firing squad. It’s easy to say, Don’t be defensive, as an angry mob hurls one aggressive criticism and spiteful accusation after another at you. It’s easy for me to say, C’mon don’t play the victim card here, don’t find your identity in victimhood. It’s easy to say, Be positive, bold, triumphant even! Own your faith, take responsibility, and don’t blame God or someone else for your plight! The fact is that no one knows how difficult this situation will be until one is right in the middle of it. It’s impossible to know beforehand how to act in the midst of persecution.

Jesus is confirming the fact that we need to depend on the Holy Spirit in the crisis of persecution. This is indeed the supreme opportunity to witness for Jesus, and we can only be up to the task if we are literally in the Spirit, Jesus closes this little section of the Olivet Discourse with these words… “The One who endures to the end will be saved.” (v. 13).  The one who patiently perseveres to the end will experience the salvation of Christ. Those who endure persecution will be delivered from spiritual death. The persecutors have only so much power. They can take your body, but they can’t take your soul, for that is protected by the Spirit of God for eternity. We can only endure through the strength and grace of God.

NOTE. Pray for those who are in the midst of persecution around the world right now. Pray that they would endure unto salvation and experience the deliverance of God. As of 2019-2020, one of every eight Christians worldwide live in countries in which they will face persecution. There are 50 countries globally in which there is severe persecution, a total of 340 million Christians. On average, every day, thirteen Christians are killed for their faith, twelve church buildings are attacked, and twelve Christians are unjustly imprisoned. Pray for the persecuted Church.