“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18
In 64 A.D., Nero accused Christians of setting fire to the city of Rome. Christians, of course, had nothing to do with the fire. That inconvenient truth didn’t stop the ensuing Roman anger from snowballing into a time of intense persecution of Christians.
In a prescient video from 2008, Paul Washer pointed out that the persecution of Christians has most often been grounded in political reasons. That’s not to say that the persecution of Christians has been devoid of theological or religious reasons; as King Jesus pointed out, the world hates us because the world hates him. More directly, the world hates King Jesus’ authority and doesn’t want to submit to his rule and kingdom. The persecution of Christians has always been a manifestation of the war between King Jesus and the Serpent. In that sense, it is both political and theological (not that the two can ultimately be separated).
The Psalms are a vivid picture of the clashes of the two kingdoms – the kingdom of man that is ultimately ruled by the Serpent and his seed versus the kingdom of God. Throughout the book, the poets lament the persecution and suffering heaped upon the heads of God’s children. Their pain and confusion is palpable as they cry out to God wondering why He has seemingly turned his back on them and why the wicked rulers of the world, who are the seed of the Serpent, appear to prosper. But, and thankfully, throughout their pain, the Psalmists return to the glorious hope of a conquering and holy king who will one day come to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. The interim period is beautifully described in Psalm 110:1 as the poet writes, “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Historically, for followers of King Jesus living in the United States, the persecution of Christians has been an abstract concept that happens in faraway places. For reasons that only God knows, Christians living in America have been spared from the kind of pushback, societal rejection, and even torture that brothers and sisters in Christ have suffered and are currently suffering around the world. Unfortunately, that is a reality that may soon only belong to history.
Immediately after an Islamic extremist carried out the terrorist attack in Orlando, leftist organizations and individuals rushed to lay the blame for the terrorist attack at the feet of Christians. In an article excoriating Christian leaders and politicians for daring to express sorrow over the terrorist act, LGBT activist Zack Ford wrote, “If you want us [LGBT community] to feel hope, do not encourage us to … pass the blame onto terrorism.” For Ford and others, the blame for the massacre at Pulse in Orlando belongs to conservative Christians.
As dumbfounded as the leftists’ misplaced and intolerant blame leaves us, Christians shouldn’t be surprised. The Bible is clear that followers of King Jesus are to expect hatred and even persecution. And as the shadow of Nero grows larger, it’s understandable that Christians in America are becoming uneasy and fearful. If, today we are being blamed for things that aren’t our fault, history tells us what’s coming tomorrow.
Thankfully, as Christians, we know how history ends. We know that we serve a King who will one day return to punish those who have rebelled against him and usher his own into their eternal home with God the Father. This is the same comfort that caused the writers of the Psalms to lift their voices in praise to God even in times of sorrow and affliction. And like the writers of the Psalms, Christians in America need to learn to put our whole trust in God and not in man nor political systems and parties.
Over the years, I’ve heard many pastors use a version of the quote, “what you fear the most reveals what you worship.” While our fear at the gathering storms of persecution is understandable, it often reveals that Christians in America worship comfort and security above all else. The only thing that is going to sustain us if and when persecution arrives in this country is the grace of God and Holy Spirit-given faith in our redeemer and king, Christ Jesus.
As our society continues to label Christians as undesirable and a hindrance to their objectives, as it becomes not just more acceptable but government-sanctioned to openly discriminate against Christians, we need to pray for the faith to remember that King Jesus suffered for our salvation. In doing so, we’ll count ourselves worthy of all joy to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake. More importantly, even as leftists are showing their hand and laying the groundwork for the persecution of Christians, we can thank God that our hope is anchored in the love that King Jesus has for his own.