To All Nations
Jesus was very clear about the fact that the gospel would be preached in all the world before the end came (see previous blog on The Signs). He strengthened that prediction and added a further dimension to it with the words, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matt. 24:9). “By all nations” confirms the global reach of the gospel, and the first part of the statement makes clear that it would be accompanied by widespread persecution wherever the gospel went. History abundantly confirms the extraordinary accuracy of both of these prophetic predictions.
Persecution by all nations! Hated by all nations?
This might seem contrary to reason. Why should the proclamation of such a powerful ethical creed invite such opposition? Its fruit is so obviously good for humanity; why not embrace it? Jesus knew only too well from experience, however, that it would expose the pride, arrogance and lust of world rulers (whether secular or religious) and produce a bitter hatred. He was also aware that his name was the centre piece of a worldwide conflict with supernatural powers of darkness and would inspire equal hatred. His followers would therefore receive particular hatred from other religions. The opposition would not only be among world leaders but, as Luke tells us, there would be intense strife even between ordinary families.
From the very inception of the gospel the prophecy proved only too true. Its founder, Jesus, was crucified. The early church grew up under persecution; Stephen and James were quickly martyred as were, it seems, Peter and Paul. People lost their homes and possessions and became refugees. For some three centuries the pattern persisted under bitter Roman persecution, and the eventual “conversion” of Rome only led to many centuries of persecution by a politically institutionalised church (Jesus knew all about that too!), especially at the Reformation. In striking fulfilment of his prophecy it has been, however, the 20th century which has witnessed the most widespread persecution of the church. For something like two decades the hatred of a communistic regime sought to destroy the church in China and thousands of Christians perished; it still goes on in N. Korea. Militant Islam, born in the latter half of the 20th century burns with a hatred of Christians throughout the wider Middle East, The “Persecution Map” published by Open Doors shows how widespread persecution is across the world and indicates its intensity.
Thus this prophecy of Jesus points us to a major “front line” of the church’s battle in our generation. It is not a prophecy for discussion or speculation, but for engagement and action. It is certainly so for us in our relatively comfortable surroundings. Thank God for “Open Doors”, “Barnabas Fund”, Solidarity World Wide” and the many other agencies called out of God to respond to the needs of persecuted Christians.
One final and crucial thought; persecution has never overcome the spread of the gospel. How true that has been in China! In fact it has been again and again the “seed of the church”. It both purifies and grows the church, and will continue to do so. But it is very painful, and we are called to assuage each other’s pain.