What we today might consider persecution is more likely closer to inconvenience.
The first century believers lived at a unique time in the outworking of God’s Kingdom. This is why that time period is studied so heavily among believers today; what was their base doctrine, how did they worship, what practices are still valid for us as believers in the modern world? How we answer these questions will align us with the various expressions of those root questions. Those who favor authority and continuity might feel compelled toward Roman Catholic teachings; those who feel that God works independently and organically with each generation may lean toward Protestant traditions. Yet all of these established variations of the faith of Messiah will hold that believers will encounter some measure of adversity due to their faith, whether in large scale persecutions, or even the daily exercising of their beliefs.
This perception comes from the many passages of the New Testament writings which speak of persecution and suffering. Yeshua wanted to encourage his hearers to recognize that suffering adversity due to their attachment to him was to be rewarded.
Matthew 5:10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
This was a pattern of encouraging believers through trials that his disciples also passed on to their hearers.
Philippians 1:27-30 – Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Messiah. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your salvation – and this is from God. For it has been granted to you on Messiah’s behalf not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are engaged in the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.
1 Peter 3:14 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated…
1 Peter 4:12 – Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you.
John 15:20 – “Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…
This suffering and adversity was to be based on their stance for righteousness and for the principles of Yeshua, not for their own rebellion or stubbornness against the ruling authorities. In fact, we see these warnings were not without merit, as those early believers indeed experienced the very things that Messiah had predicted.
- Acts 5:40 – After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them.
- Acts 8:1, 3 – …On that day a severe persecution broke out against the congregation in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. … Saul, however, was ravaging the congregation. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
- Acts 12:1-3 – About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the congregation, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
These examples show how bitterly the message of the gospel of the Kingdom would be received among the corrupt Jewish authorities, and Yeshua had wanted to ensure that his followers were fully prepared for what they would experience. This is why the New Testament writings are filled with statements of encouragement against adversity, because they were actually experiencing it first-hand in their daily lives.
Hebrews 12:3, 12 – For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. … Therefore, strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees…
Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we in our Western culture are experiencing true persecution for the faith of Messiah. Just because someone disagrees with a social media post or breaks off a friendship because we choose to no longer pursue unrighteous activities is not persecution. To be persecuted in the biblical sense means to be chased or hunted down with the intent to physically harm or kill.
While these New Testament encouragements were designed to minister primarily to that first century generation, I recognize there are still places in the world today where believers in Messiah are persecuted, physically beaten, imprisoned, and tortured for their faith. In those situations, these words that were aimed at those early believers still ring true in all their fullness today.
However, regardless of the severity of adversity that anyone suffers for righteousness and the principles of Messiah, we can take the advice of the apostle Paul to heart that applies in any situation:
Philippians 1:27- Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Messiah.
This is the high calling of every believer of Messiah in every place, in every situation, at all times. When we continually live our lives with integrity, worthy of the gospel of Messiah, we honor our true citizenship and bear the greatest witness to the reality of that Kingdom.
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