Before reading this brief study, please read the previous articles in this series,
- The Meaning of Eschatology
- Flashback to the Prophecy of Jesus Christ
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 1
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 2
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 3
- The Wedding Feast
- The Temple – Old and New
- The Questions
- The Beginning of Signs
- Misleading Sign 1 – False Messiahs
- Misleading Sign 2 – Wars and Rumours of Wars
- Misleading Sign 3 – Nation against Nation & Kingdom against Kingdom
- Misleading Sign 4 – Famines
- Misleading Sign 5 – Pestilences
- Misleading Sign 6 – Earthquakes
- Misleading Sign 7 – Signs and Disturbances in the Heavens
Matthew 24:9 — Then they will hand you over to suffer affliction and tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.”
Mark 13:9 — “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.
Luke 21:12 – 15 — But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.
PERSECUTION – A WAY OF LIFE
When we carefully read the accounts in scripture, especially in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we discover that persecution was a way of life in the early church. It was the occasion of severe tests and trials in which the church prospered. The book of Acts records these persecutions.
PETER AND JOHN
Acts 4:1 – 3 — AND WHILE they [Peter and John] were talking to the people, the high priests and the military commander of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, Being vexed and indignant through and through because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in [the case of] Jesus the resurrection from the dead. So they laid hands on them (arrested them) and put them in prison until the following day, for it was already evening.
PETER AND THE APOSTLES
Acts 5:17 – 18 — But the high priest rose up and all who were his supporters, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and being filled with jealousy and indignation and rage, They seized and arrested the apostles (special messengers) and put them in the public jail.
OTHER BELIEVERS AND DISCIPLES
1 Thessalonians 2:14 – 16 — For you, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies (churches) of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea, for you too have suffered the same kind of treatment from your own fellow countrymen as they did [who were persecuted at the hands] of the Jews, Who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and harassed and drove us out, and continue to make themselves hateful and offensive to God and to show themselves foes of all men, Forbidding and hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles (the nations) that they may be saved. So as always they fill up [to the brim the measure of] their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last [completely and forever]!
Acts 7:57 – 60 — Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
CHURCH AT JERUSALEM
Acts 8:1 – 2 — Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
JAMES KILLED AND OTHERS PERSECUTED
Acts 12:1 – 4 — Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.
PAUL AND SILAS
Acts 16:19 – 24 — But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Acts 14:19 – 20 — Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
2 Corinthians 11:22 – 28 — Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?–I speak as a fool–I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 2 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA
Revelation 2:9 — I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
PERSECUTION UNDER NERO – THE GREAT FIRE OF JULY 64 AD.
The description which Tacitus gives is as follows:
“Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again not only through Judaea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters as to a common sink, and where they are encouraged.
Accordingly, first, those were seized who confessed they were Christians; next, on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of setting the city on fire, as of hating the human race. And in their deaths they were made the subject of sport, for they were covered with the skins of wild beasts and were worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when day declined were burned to serve for nocturnal lights.
Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle, and exhibited circus games, indiscriminately mingling with the common people dressed as a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. Whence a feeling of compassion arose toward the sufferers, though guilty and deserving to be made examples of by capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but to be victims to the ferocity of one man.” [International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved] [Tacitus, Annals, 365–366]
Suetonius, while discussing the reign of Nero, said:
“Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief” [Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, 220]
FOX’S BOOK OF MARTYRS
Above mentioned are some accounts of Christians being persecuted in the book of Acts with many being martyred. The persecution after the scriptural accounts was even more intense. Chapter one of Fox’s Book of Martyrs gives us the following account:
“Christ our Saviour, in the gospel of St. Matthew, hearing the confession of Simon Peter, who, first of all other, openly acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, and perceiving the secret hand of His Father therein, called him (alluding to his name) a rock, upon which rock He would build His church so strong that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. In which words three things are to be noted:
First, that Christ will have a church in this world. Secondly, that the same church should mightily be impugned, not only by the world, but also by the uttermost strength and powers of all hell. And, thirdly, that the same church, notwithstanding the uttermost of the devil and all his malice, should continue.
Which prophecy of Christ we see wonderfully to be verified, insomuch that the whole course of the church to this day may seem nothing else but a verifying of the said prophecy. First, that Christ hath set up a church, needeth no declaration. Secondly, what force of princes, kings, monarchs, governors, and rulers of this world, with their subjects, publicly and privately, with all their strength and cunning, have bent themselves against this church! And, thirdly, how the said church, all this notwithstanding, hath yet endured and holden its own!
What storms and tempests it hath overpast, wondrous it is to behold: for the more evident declaration whereof, I have addressed this present history, to the end, first, that the wonderful works of God in His church might appear to His glory; also that, the continuance and proceedings of the church, from time to time, being set forth, more knowledge and experience may redound thereby, to the profit of the reader and edification of Christian faith.
As it is not our business to enlarge upon our Saviour’s history, either before or after His crucifixion, we shall only find it necessary to remind our readers of the discomfiture of the Jews by His subsequent resurrection. Although one apostle had betrayed Him; although another had denied Him, under the solemn sanction of an oath; and although the rest had forsaken Him, unless we may except “the disciple who was known unto the high-priest”; the history of His resurrection gave a new direction to all their hearts, and, after the mission of the Holy Spirit, imparted new confidence to their minds.
The powers with which they were endued emboldened them to proclaim His name, to the confusion of the Jewish rulers, and the astonishment of Gentile proselytes.”
“St. Stephen suffered the next in order. His death was occasioned by the faithful manner in which he preached the gospel to the betrayers and murderers of Christ. To such a degree of madness were they excited, that they cast him out of the city and stoned him to death.
The time when he suffered is generally supposed to have been at the Passover which succeeded to that of our Lord’s crucifixion, and to the era of his ascension, in the following spring.
Upon this, a great persecution was raised against all who professed their belief in Christ as the Messiah, or as a prophet. We are immediately told by St. Luke, that “there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem;” and that “they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
About two thousand Christians, with Nicanor, one of the seven deacons, suffered martyrdom during the “persecution that arose about Stephen.”
JAMES THE GREAT
“The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History of the Apsotles’ Acts, was James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John, and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin-german to the Virgin Mary.
It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with them, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians, and determined to make an effectual blow, by striking at their leaders.
The account given us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not to be overlooked; that, as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle’s extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone.
Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. Thus did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup, which he had told our Saviour he was ready to drink. Timon and Parmenas suffered martyrdom about the same time; the one at Philippi, and the other in Macedonia. These events took place AD. 44.”
“Was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee and was first called by the name of “disciple.” He labored diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified, AD. 54.”
“Whose occupation was that of a toll-gatherer, was born at Nazareth. He wrote his gospel in Hebrew, which was afterwards translated into Greek by James the Less. The scene of his labors was Parthia, and Ethiopia, in which latter country he suffered martyrdom, being slain with a halberd in the city of Nadabah, AD. 60.”
JAMES THE LESS
“Is supposed by some to have been the brother of our Lord, by a former wife of Joseph. This is very doubtful, and accords too much with the Catholic superstition, that Mary never had any other children except our Saviour. He was elected to the oversight of the churches of Jerusalem; and was the author of the Epistle ascribed to James in the sacred canon. At the age of ninety-four he was beat and stoned by the Jews; and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club.”
“Of whom less is known than of most of the other disciples, was elected to fill the vacant place of Judas. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.”
“Was the brother of Peter. He preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations; but on his arrival at Edessa he was taken and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground. Hence the derivation of the term, St. Andrew’s Cross.”
“Was born of Jewish parents of the tribe of Levi. He is supposed to have been converted to Christianity by Peter, whom he served as an amanuensis, and under whose inspection he wrote his gospel in the Greek language. Mark was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria, at the great solemnity of Serapis their idol, ending his life under their merciless hands.”
“Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; albeit some others, and not without cause, do doubt thereof.
Hegesippus saith that Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city.
Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said, “Lord, whither dost Thou go?” To whom He answered and said, “I am come again to be crucified.” By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned into the city.
Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.”
“Paul, the apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the gospel of Christ, suffered also in this first persecution under Nero. Abdias, declareth that under his execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death.
They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired him to pray for them, that they might believe; who told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptized at His sepulcher. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck to the sword.”
“The brother of James, was commonly called Thaddeus. He was crucified at Edessa, AD. 72.”
“Preached in several countries, and having translated the gospel of Matthew into the language of India, he propagated it in that country. He was at length cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters.”
“Called Didymus, preached the gospel in Parthia and India, where exciting the rage of the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.”
“The evangelist, was the author of the gospel which goes under his name. He travelled with Paul through various countries, and is supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree, by the idolatrous priests of Greece.”
“Surnamed Zelotes, preached the gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, AD. 74.”
“Was of Cyprus, but of Jewish descent, his death is supposed to have taken place about AD. 73.
And yet, notwithstanding all these continual persecutions and horrible punishments, the church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and of men apostolical, and watered plentously with the blood of saints.”
[Fox’s Book of Martyr’s, Chapter 1, History of Christian Martyrs to the First General Persecutions.]
The apostle of the Lamb, John wrote of his union and companionship with these first-century disciples in the persecution and tribulation of the period, in AD. 66:
Revelation 1:9 — “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Tertullian wrote of the persecution of these first Christians in the second century:
“There was war against the very name.” [Keith, p. 61]
Newton writes concerning the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy to His disciples on the Mount of Olives:
“Some are ‘brought before rulers and kings,’ as Paul before Gallio, (xviii.12) Felix, (xxiv) Festus and Agrippa, (xxv)…Some are beaten, as Paul and Silas: (xvi.23)…But if we would look farther, we have a more melancholy proof of the truth of this prediction, in the persecutions under Nero, in which (besides numberless other Christians) fell those two champions of our faith, St. Peter and St. Paul.” [Newton, vol. 2, pp. 252-253]
Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome and persecuted them for it. Tacitus records:
“…Nero, for the conflagration of Rome, persecuted the Christians, a race detested for their crimes…” [Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, p. 163]
Gibbon writes in his great history of Roman decline:
“A candid but rational inquiry into the progress and establishment of Christianity may be considered as a very essential part of the history of the Roman empire…a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigor from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the Cross on the ruins of the Capitol.” [Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of Rome, abridgment by D. M. Low, p. 143]
Jesus commanded His disciples to begin witnessing from Jerusalem and to move out to the ends of the earth, which was at that time the entire reach of the Roman Empire. [Acts 1:8]
We find the apostles still resident in Jerusalem with a mega-church. So, God used persecution in this first generation church to get them out of Jerusalem, and spread into the whole known Greco-Roman world. [Romans 8:1]
This definitely does not mean there has not been suffering and persecution at other periods of church history or that there may not be in the coming days. There have been big heroes of faith who have been loyal and have suffered for the sake of the name of Christ in every age and there will be heroes of the faith in the future.
This evidently means that between AD. 30 and AD. 70, the terrible tribulation and persecution which these immediate apostles and their fellow believers actually suffered was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus in this passage of scripture.