The Coming of Persecutions
General Idea: Jesus calls us to be wise and be aware. The Christian life is an impossible task; it is a Way that cannot be fathomed. We cannot successfully accomplish it on our own. We face obstacles and pitfalls that derail us from the goal, and we become frustrated, lose our hope, and even our faith. The great news is we are not on this journey alone. Christ equips us, and even tells us what is ahead so we can be forewarned and prepared. With His guidance, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian life becomes a doable deal, a life worth living, and a life worth spreading to others. It is a life that has no equal! Jesus comes to us, not only to equip us, but also to do what is most essential, that of fulfilling us. This is an incredible and wondrous privilege. However, it can also be tough. He promises Himself to us, but not an easy path. There is a price to pay in life, one for which He made the full payment for--our place in eternity, our salvation. But, the ways and woes of this sinful, fallen world, seemingly gripped in Satan's control, will get to us on occasions. It may even cause us to suffer, and bring us to our eternal home earlier than we planned. But, when our eyes are upon Christ as our Lord, we can have confidence that He is sovereign and will bring us through. We will even grow stronger, and better through adversity.
1. Sheep in the mist of wolves: This was a common saying, as the Jewish people saw themselves as sheep, and the rest of the Gentile world as wolves. As Christians, we are sheep among wolves, facing dangers and opportunities that collide to cause the spread of the Gospel--even if it means enduring strain, pain and suffering.
a. The world will hate us for no apparent reason--other than it hates Jesus. As His ambassadors, we may feel and experience the fallout of people's wrath and indignation that God would love them. They do not want His love; they want sin, and they want to do what feels good, not what is good.
b. Jesus was preparing His disciples for what lay ahead for them, (and for us,) for the first mission they soon were to begin, and for the real dangers that would come after the call of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
c. They would endure persecution--not maybe, or what if--but a real and present danger. So, they had to be prepared!
i. Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves: We are called to be prudent in action, and in discernment, so to prevent needless suffering and strife in our lives, while still showing the love of our Lord. If it can be prevented, by all means, prevent it!!! But, do it without compromising the precepts of His Word, of course!
ii. A hard, but doable balance is to prepare ourselves, both by way of prevention and of endurance. In that way, we can prevent others from falsely accusing us, as Paul did, making a stand for the faith, and defending one another with the gentleness and the "Fruits of the Spirit" so we can be like Christ (Phil. 1).
iii. This passage testifies to the coming, universal persecution from all peoples, in all situations, and to all extremes (John 15:18-20; Acts 14:22; 1 Thess. 3:4; 2 Tim. 3:12).
2. Beware of men: Our greatest enemy is our fellow man under the influence of pride and/or Satan. The dangers will come from all sides, and all people--from family, foreigners, countrymen, and the Gentile world. It will include every assortment of people and problems. People in authority, people on the streets--anyone could become our enemy.
a. This is a warning to the Jewish courts that are staked against Truth and Justice and steeped in pride. Jewish courts were manned by three or more judges who were the rabbis and elders from their family Synagogue. Thus, the family and clan came against the early Christian! They came to the judgment with a skewed understanding of the Christian as well as of their own Jewish faith. They held ironclad control so they could oust anything they did not understand, or that did not line up with what they perceived as their faith.
i. The discipline was a whipping of thirteen lashes across the chest and twenty-six across the back, and the ousting from the Synagogue-total, social isolation from all they knew and grew up with.
ii. They were particularly harsh towards Christians because they saw them as traitors who rejected their (the rabbis and rulers) teaching. This was personal!
iii. Thus, their family and all the people they grew up with were stacked against them!
b. Sometimes they were handed over to the Romans. This mentality was strange, considering that betraying a fellow Jew in a Roman-occupied nation was considered a heinous act.
c. Even in persecution, we are declared worthy to suffer in His name! It is an honor to serve in His name (Matt. 5: 10-12; James 1:2-4)!
3. Do not worry what to say: The power of the Spirit is at our disposal, speaking through us. The essential point is to allow Him to do so. We do this by releasing our strong will and aspirations, so He is more than we.
a. The Gospel is its own defense; therefore we need not be worried what will happen when we righteously live our faith in Christ! By learning His character and Word, we will be prepared to overcome anything that challenges our faith, or comes across our path.
i. However, having the Spirit as our Guide is no excuse for not studying and learning the Word. Remember, Paul spent three years of intense study before venturing out on his trips, even though he was a highly educated Pharisee
ii. The disciples were not to respond with lawyers, advocates, or violence as the pagans did, but rather rely on the Spirit (Acts 4:8).
b. In Jewish thinking, and in the OT, the Spirit was sporadic and available only to a select few. What a privilege we possess to have Him all of the time!
c. Even family will come against us. Passion for the self-directed life will outweigh anything--even family-so that the God-directed life will not interfere with their will. This was true for the close-knit Jewish family and clan. Imagine how true it must be for the not-so-close modern, or postmodern family.
d. Micah 7:5-7 gives a glimpse of what is to come.
e. In OT times, a person could avoid persecution by fleeing to the cities of refuge (Num. 35: 6-15f; Josh. 20:1-9). This meant that there was always a place of escape. In severe persecution and imprisonment, there may be no physical place to go, but our minds will remain free to mediate on our Lord and look to Him as our strength and Lord (Matt. 24:22).
4. Son of Man: This is Jesus' most common title for Himself. (See Theological Note below.) This is one of those few difficult passages that theologians like to debate. There are several theories for when before the son of man comes, just as there are many theories on the end times. This is what we do know: Christ is coming to judge the earth (Matt. 16:28; 24: 30; 25: 31; 26:64) which some see as the meaning for this phrase. But, in verse twenty-three, there is a message of urgency that the other passages do not have; so, it could also refer to His coming in the Resurrection and Ascension, and the call of the Great Commission. Or, it could mean the coming of the Holy Spirit's permanence at Pentecost in Acts. This phrase in the Hebrew means, before I rejoin you, thus giving great credence to the referring of His Ascension and the coming of the Spirit. Others say that because the persecution did not start until after Pentecost, this refers to the first theory, as in His Judgment. Others say the coming refers to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, a major turning point in Jewish and Christian history. It is safe to say that all are plausible, and are in some form true. However, the importance is that the Spirit did come and is here, that Christ will come to judge, and that the persecutions will remain until He returns.
a. A disciple is not above his teacher/master: This is not about worth or ambition; rather that as a Christian, we will experience the stress and joys of life just as our Lord did when He walked this earth. We cannot expect to have better treatment than God Himself did (Luke 23:33).
b. Beelzebub (Matt. 10:25; 12:24,27; Mark 3:22): This is a Greek transliteration from Hebrew (Greek Beelzboul) for the name, and means "prince of demons." The exact meaning of this term is not known. It is suggested that it also means "lord of the house," and may refer to Satan's authority over the demons. It is also a name for a heathen god of Ekron, Baal-zebub (2 Kings 1:2) and called Belial by Paul (2 Cor. 6:15). Because he is called the prince of demons, he is lord over hell.
1. Do you think the world is getting better towards the treatment of Christians, or worse?
3. Have you ever considered that the Christian life is an impossible task? Why, or why not? What makes it possible?
4. What are some obstacles and pitfalls you may face that could potentially derail you from the goal Christ has for you? (The main goal is your growth in faith and maturity; and then there are personal, and ministry goals)
5. How have you seen yourself or other Christians as sheep amongst wolves? What are some of the "wolves" as in dangers and opportunities, and what can they do?
6. The world will hate us for no apparent reason other than it hates Jesus. What are some of the theories that you have seen or experienced to demonstrate this?
7. Why do you suppose most people prefer sin, and what feels good, to His love?
8. What does it mean to be prudent in our action and discernment so as to prevent needless suffering and strife in our lives?
9. Jesus was preparing His disciples for what lay ahead. What do you need to do in your mindset and attitude to help prepare for the same?
10. Have you ever experienced any kind of persecution? If so, how, and what? How did you feel? How did you take it? Did you see it as a privilege and honor to represent Christ? Why, or why not?
11. What would happen to your faith in Christ if your family and all the people you know and grew up with were against you? How hard would that be? Now, consider the people in foreign lands who convert to Christ, and what they maybe forced to go through!
12. Even in persecution, we are declared worthy to suffer in His name! How do you respond to this statement? How would your church respond?
13. What do you need to do to let the Spirit speak through you?
14. A lot of Christians, using this passage as their mantra, think all they need to do to teach and preach is to rely on the Spirit, so they feel no need to study or learn. How would you respond to this thinking?
15. The disciples were not to respond with lawyers, advocates, or violence as the pagans did, but rely on the Spirit. Should a Christian today use a lawyer to take a non-Christian to court? What about a Christian? (Consider that the courts and family structures that were tied to each other then are no longer employed, so, you are not bringing families and relations against one another as in Jesus time. Today's courts are more for bargaining and resolution-i.e. civil court). During the Reformation, the church was also set up to use the Elders to solve disputes amongst members, a method still employed in most Reformed churches today, and with great results.)
16. Read Micah 7:5-7. This passage is about the disintegrating family. How is this prophetic of the family of today? Or, is it?
17. Most Christians expect a grand and wonderful life, yet Christ tells us we will experience the stresses and joys of life just as our Lord did when He walked this earth. Can we expect to have better treatment than God Himself did?
18. If you were one of Matthew's first-century readers, and faced with severe persecution, how would you respond to this passage?
19. What can you do to prepare yourself for facing obstacles and pitfalls that can potentially derail you from the goal Christ has for you?
20. What can you do to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves?
The Son of Man: This is Jesus' most common title for Himself. It is used eighty-one times in the Gospels, and it is never used by anyone else but Jesus. It is used three times outside of the Gospels (Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; 14:14). It means He is Lord and King! This does not mean He is just a man, or His identification of being among humanity, even though He is identified with us. Rather, it is one of His Messianic titles. It is a reference from the book of Daniel (Dan. 7:13-14) as a picture of a heavenly body who in the end times is entrusted by God with full authority, glory, and sovereign power, who is to be worshiped. He will judge the world (Matt. 24:30-26:64). It is also a picture, showing us that Jesus must suffer on our behalf (Isa. 52:13-53:12; Matt. 26:24-64; Mark 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33-34; 14:21, 41), and one of His sovereign Lordship and glory (Rev. 1:13; 14:14). Jesus may have preferred this term to Messiah, because most people had a skewed view of who and what a Messiah would be. They wanted a military or political leader, not what God had promised and sent--a Savior from our sin.
© 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.com