Persecution and Suffering

The reality of persecution raises important questions. How should the disciples of Jesus react to hostility and opposition? Should they resort to indignation, civil disobedience, and public protests? The human desire to live without conflict is natural and understandable. Nevertheless, Jesus warned that all men who decide to follow him would endure “tribulation” and persecution.

He summons his disciple to follow the same path that he did. The “servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, so they will persecute you” - (John 15:20, 16:33).

Lighthouse lightning - Photo by Michael Krahn on Unsplash
[Photo by Michael Krahn on Unsplash]

Every disciple must conform his life to the Lord’s example, especially by denying his needs and desires and “
taking up the Cross.” In the first century, crucifixion was a violent and shameful form of death. But the disciple who refuses to walk that same path is “not worthy of me” - (Matthew 16:24).

It is a “blessing” and not a curse to suffer for him, although this is counterintuitive and contrary to the “wisdom of this age.” Unlike the expectations of this fallen world, a disciple should “rejoice and be glad” when he is persecuted for the Kingdom since “great is his reward in heaven” - (Matthew 5:12).

The teachings of Jesus about suffering are echoed in the writings of the Apostles. In Thessalonica, the Assembly received the Gospel in “much tribulation,” yet its members welcomed Paul’s message despite the hostility generated by it.

Instead of anger or dismay, they accepted the path of discipleship that is characterized by suffering for the Gospel and others. By doing so, they became “examples” for the other congregations of the region, and they were “imitators” of the earlier saints “in Judea…who suffered the same things by their own fellow countrymen” - (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8, 2:14-16).

After being compelled to leave Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy to assess the situation. He wanted no one to “shrink back in these tribulations. For you yourselves know that we are appointed for this… We are destined to suffer tribulation.” Persecution results from following Jesus. It is not an aberration when it occurs.

Paul expressed similar sentiments to Timothy, including “what manner of persecutions” he endured.  He pointed to his sufferings as a pattern for disciples to imitate, for “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” - (2 Timothy 3:10-12).


THE BIBLICAL hope is forward-looking. Final rewards and everlasting life are received in the “age to come.” Suffering in the present is not pleasant, but it “is a slight and momentary affliction preparing us for an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (2 Corinthians 4:17, Revelation 22:12).

Suffering “unjustly” is a sign of divine approval, evidence that one is a true follower of Jesus. “When you do right and suffer for it patiently, you have God's approval.” To endure rejection is what it means to follow the Lord who “also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow” - (1 Peter 2:19-20).

We are not to “be frightened in anything by our opponents.” Hostility is “clear evidence” of their destruction but also of “our salvation.” God has graced us to suffer for His kingdom, a very great privilege, and an exceptional honor - (Philippians 1:28-29).

We instinctively respond in kind to personal attacks. Human society sees self-defense and retaliation as necessary and even morally justified reactions to threats and assaults. However, Jesus prohibited his disciples from engaging in retaliation, and he provided no exceptions to the rule.

When we are persecuted, we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” By showing mercy to our enemy, we emulate God and become “perfect” as He is - (Matthew 5:44-48).

Likewise, in Romans, Paul exhorts disciples to “bless them that persecute, bless and do not curse.”  They must “render no one evil for evil,” and they must “not avenge” themselves but leave justice in the hands of the God who will “repayif, how, and when He sees fit - (Romans 12:14-21).

The Apostle Peter also taught believers to “endure patiently” unjust suffering. Doing so demonstrated their “approval by God.” He pointed to Jesus as the ultimate example of how we are to respond to hostility; for to “this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example” - (1 Peter 2:19-23).

Previously, we were “enemies” of God. We were only reconciled to Him “by the death of his Son,” and he died for us “while we were yet sinners.” Our real “enemies” are not “blood and flesh, but the principalities, the authorities, the world-holders of this darkness.” Human agents carry out acts of aggression on behalf of their demonic overlords. However, on the Cross, Jesus triumphed over “the principalities and powers” that enslave all men, including Sin and Death. - (Romans 5:6-10).

Lighthouse NJ - Photo by Travis Leery on Unsplash
[Photo by Travis Leery on Unsplash]

We are called to emulate Jesus.  When unjustly condemned, he refused to respond with threats. When he was dying, he prayed for His Father to forgive the very men who condemned him to death and nailed him to the Cross.

When persecution inevitably occurs, we must not respond with belligerence, rage, civil disobedience, and especially, not with violence.  One cannot “overcome evil with evil.” When we react to hostility with rage and violence, Satan triumphs, and we demonstrate just whose disciple we truly are.

  • Rejection and Disdain - (Jesus experienced growing conflict as he began his journey to the city of Jerusalem)
  • Suffering for Him - (For followers of Jesus, retaliation and violence are not appropriate reactions to persecution)
  • The Cost of Discipleship - (The story highlights the hard truth that to become a disciple of the Nazarene one must be willing to follow the same path that he did)



Salvation for the Nations

His Name is Jesus