Jesus was realistic about how His followers would be treated by the world. And, in fact, His Church was persecuted by Rome, has been persecuted by Communism, and is being persecuted in North Korea, in China, in India, and in Muslim nations.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:18-19 NIV)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
The time near the end of history will be especially difficult. Answering the Disciples' question about the signs of His coming and the end of the age, Jesus said, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:9-13 NIV)
Many people wonder if we are near these last days that Jesus spoke of because of the increase of antagonism toward Christianity in our culture and in our world. Voice of the Martyrs maintains that more Christians are living under persecution today than at any time in history.
In my lifetime the culture here in the USA has gone from embracing Christian values to questioning them to rejecting them. In the 50's it was accepted and expected that most people would attend Church. Today an increasing number of people either despise the Church as being judgmental or reject the Church as being irrelevant.
And yet Jesus still transforms the lives of those who trust in Him by His grace and the power of His love and holiness. And people still need Jesus.
How do we live in these perilous times?
We live devoted to Jesus, who said, "But take heart! I have overcome the world." We stand firm in grace and truth whatever comes, remembering Jesus said, "The one who stands firm to the end will be saved." We don't give up or give in, but rather we give over our lives to Jesus, who died for us and will have the final word in the end.
In our leg of the race, we run with perseverance. When we are discouraged or fearful we turn to Jesus and find hope in Him. We love like Jesus. We serve like Jesus. We sacrifice like Jesus. We testify to the reality of a risen Lord who transforms everyday people from estranged sinners to sons and daughters to saints.
Believing Jesus died for my sins is easy. Trusting Him with my life means giving up control, and that's difficult. Walking by faith in obedience to Him seems to me to put me in two wars: the war with myself and my own sinful nature as I strive to be like Jesus, and war with the evil one who seeks to steal, kill and destroy all who follow Jesus.
We want our faith to be comfortable and bring peace. And we do have the "peace that surpasses all human comprehension" that the Apostle Paul named in Philippians 4:7. But we have that peace in the midst of opposition and even persecution.
I want to be one of the ones who stands firm to the end and is saved. How about you? Lord Jesus, please grow into us the gritty, tough, persevering faith that will stand firm to the end!