Sunday, 13 November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
See www.idop-africa.org website for articles, news and resources to mobilise your church or school, to pray for the persecuted.
"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the Body also." Hebrews 13:3
Over 400 million Christians live under 67 governments which restrict religious freedom and persecute believers. Every year an average of 300,000 Christians are killed for their Faith.
Praying for the Persecuted
In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John was given a glimpse into Heaven. He sees the martyrs, and he hears their prayer. What are the martyrs who have died for Christ praying?
The Martyr's Prayer
"When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'how long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed." Revelation 6:9-11
Praying for Justice
Here we obtain a glimpse into Heaven. Those who had been faithful to God's Word, and had been slain for the testimony that they had maintained, are in the very presence of God and they are praying: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Throughout the world I have come across many people who are praying for peace. However it is notable that the martyrs in Heaven are praying for justice.
How does the Lord respond to these prayers? Does He rebuke them? No! Each of them is given a white robe signifying their right standing with Almighty God. They are told to be patient for a little while. When the full number of their fellow servants and brethren have died for Christ, their prayer for justice will be answered.
The Wrath of the Lamb
The rest of Revelation 6 illustrates that judgment: "And the kings of earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the Wrath of the Lamb! For the Day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" Revelation 6:15-17
If the World Hates You
The Lord Jesus warned us: "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the Word that I said to you, 'the servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." John 15:18-20
The Sufferings of Paul
The Apostle Paul testified: "In labours 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 - beside the other things which come upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches." 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
The Suffering is Temporary
The Apostle Paul wrote: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Romans 8:18. The suffering is temporary - the glory is eternal.
Following in His Steps
The Apostle Peter wrote: "For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His step" 1 Peter 2:20-21
Will Suffer Persecution
"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." 2 Timothy 3:12
The Scripture does not say some, nor does it say many, nor even most. "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."
The Scripture does not say may, or could suffer persecution. "Will suffer persecution."
Faithful Under Fire
If we are seeking to be faithful to our Lord Jesus, we will suffer some persecution for it? By God's grace, perhaps, not the violent and vicious persecution which Christians in communist and Muslim lands have suffered. However, if we remain faithful to the Lord, there will be times when we will be misunderstood, slandered, discriminated against, threatened and abused. Whether from family or friends, neighbours or co-workers, whether at school, or at the work place, those who maintain a consistent testimony for the Lord are bound to suffer some abuse.
Watch and Pray
When the Lord warned his disciples of coming persecution (Matthew 16:21-16; 26:31-35), they responded with disbelief. Because they did not believe Christ's warning, they did not "watch and pray." As a result, they denied the Lord and ran away (Matthew 26:40-46; 56; 60-75).
The Apostle Paul strengthened the disciples and encouraged them to remain true to the Faith by teaching: "We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God." Acts 14:22
Rooted in the Word
Jesus taught that many believers would forsake Him (Matthew 24:9-10) when trouble or persecution comes because of their superficial commitment. Those with no roots in God's Word would fall away quickly (Matthew 13:21).
In response to the clear warnings of these Scriptures, and in the light of the increasing hostility towards Christianity in so many circles, it would be wise for every Christian to study what the Word of God has to say about persecution.
"And they overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the Word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death." Revelation 12:11
Christians can overcome satan by the Blood of Christ's Atonement and by the Word of God. Not only by the Word known and memorised in our hearts and minds, but by our living testimony, applying the Word of God to every area of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that we should not be afraid of those who can only kill the body and after that can do no more. The Lord told us whom we should fear. We must fear God, who after the killing of the body has power to throw both body and soul into hell, forever (Luke 12:4-5).
It is this kind of courage that we see in the apostles in the Book of Acts. When Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin they courageously responded: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:19-20.
In response to the threats of the Sanhedrin, Peter and John gathered with the other disciples and prayed for the boldness to continue to proclaim God's Word "Now Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your Word…" Acts 4:29
The Scripture records that "when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31
To Obey God or Man?
Then you read that the High Priest rose up with great indignation and arrested the apostles, casting them into prison. "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this Name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" But Peter and the other apostles answered: "We ought to obey God rather than men." Acts 5:28-29
Suffering Shame for His Name
The Sanhedrin then had the apostles flogged and commanded them not to speak in the Name of Jesus. We read that the Apostles left the council "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." Acts 5:41-42
The Steadfastness of Stephen
We then read of the martyrdom of Stephen who is described as "full of Faith and power" and who did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). The people were stirred up against Stephen and false witnesses were produced. Stephen's courageous stand before the Sanhedrin is recorded in Acts 7: "You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and the murderers, who have received the Law by the direction of angels and have not kept it." Acts 7:51-53
Scattered by Persecution
We read that "a great persecution arose against the Church which was at Jerusalem; and they all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word." Acts 8:1-4
The Martyrdom of James
In order to please the people, King Herod had James, the brother of John, beheaded. He then ordered the Apostle Peter to be arrested. However, God opened prison doors and set the captive free - in answer to prayer. God judged Herod. "An angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. But the Word of God grew and multiplied." Acts 12:23-24
Power Amidst Persecution
Throughout the Book of Acts we see peace and power amidst persecution. Paul and Barnabas boldly proclaimed the Gospel and responded to persecution with joy.
"But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Acts 13:50-52
Singing in the Cells
In Acts 16 we read of Paul and Silas seized and dragged before the authorities, "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 upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailor to keep them securely… he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing Hymns to God and the prisoners were listening to them." Acts 16:22-25
Triumph Amidst Tribulation
Stripped and beaten, flogged and imprisoned, chained in the prison cells, Paul and Silas determined to praise God amidst their persecution. "Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed." Acts 16:26. By God's grace Paul and Silas were able to see their captor converted and his entire family brought to Salvation.
The Testimony of the Apostles
Indeed, all of the Apostles suffered severe persecution for Christ:
Peter was crucified upside down in Rome after much outreach.
James the Elder was beheaded by Herod in Palestine after fearless preaching.
John, after a life of evangelism, was boiled in oil and banished in exile to Patmos.
Andrew was crucified in Greece while spreading the Gospel there.
Philip died as a martyr in Asia Minor after preaching the Gospel to the Gaul's.
Nathaniel preached the Gospel in India and Armenia before being flayed alive and beheaded.
Thomas established churches throughout Babylonia and India before being axed to death.
Matthew was burned to death while preaching the Gospel in Ethiopia.
James the younger was crucified while evangelising in Egypt.
Jude preached the Gospel throughout Syria and Persia where he was finally martyred.
Simon the Zealot preached the Word of God throughout Syria and Mesopotamia and was sawn in half in Persia.
Matthias was crucified on a missionary outreach in the Crimea (in what became the Soviet Union).
Tested by Fire
"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your Faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the Revelation of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:6-7
Dr. Peter Hammond has served the persecuted Church for over 34 years. He is the author of Faith Under Fire in Sudan; Holocaust in Rwanda; In the Killing Fields of Mozambiqueand Slavery, Terrorism and Islam - The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
An audio CD of the full message that this article was adapted from, and other resources for the persecuted, are available from:
Christian Liberty Books
P.O. Box 358 Howard Place 7450
Cape Town South Africa
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