As all Christians who are even mildly literate of Scripture know, just before the Lord Jesus returns to set up His earthly kingdom, severe and deadly cataclysms will roil across the entire globe. Wars. Famines. Pestilences. Natural disasters. Such terror was described by Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles and by the Lord Jesus Himself. Many of you are familiar with the so-called apocalyptic passages in Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13. Those chapters are only a snippet of scripture’s warnings.
So terrible, so deadly, so horrific will be that time which Jeremiah termed “The time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) that the Lord Jesus said, “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:22)
It is also important for us to know that along with the global catastrophes, there will also come a global and bloody persecution against God's true children.
For centuries, theologians – even as far back as the early Church Fathers -- theologians have believed that God will remove from earth all true followers of Jesus Christ BEFORE those global upheavals and persecutions come to pass. That removal is popularly called by many, ‘The Rapture.”
But – and on the other hand – there are also many theologians who believe just the opposite, that there will NOT be a rapture of the Church before the tribulation and world-wide persecution.
Now, the point to all this is: One of these groups of Bible-believing Christians is wrong.
And so, as I stand before God and before you, I will tell you I believe there WILL be a rapture of the Church. I believe God will rescue His true followers before He pours out His wrath on a godless world, and before the global persecution of His children takes root.
BUT – and this is key! I can be wrong. And so, although I believe in the doctrine of the Rapture, and because I could be wrong, I am obligated to Christ and to you to err on the side of extreme caution and warn you to prepare – I mean REALLY prepare for the worst.
In 1975 Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, wrote to a well-known Christian of the time: “I was talking recently with an elderly missionary from China who told me that her greatest regrets now are not having prepared the Chinese Christians for the tribulation they would undergo. She said in her years in China she went everywhere teaching the pre-tribulation rapture and getting Christians to believe that they would not have to suffer for the Lord in that sense. The great tribulation they absolutely stagger the imagination but still there is only so much one person can suffer.”
Corrie Ten Boom, former prisoner in a notorious Nazi concentration camp where she was sent for hiding Jews from the Gestapo, also told of her great fear for Christians being led astray by false teachers who were convincing their congregations that they will escape the global persecution.
Corrie told of meeting a Chinese bishop who said: “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. [We should have told] the people to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes, to stand and not faint.”
Whether the persecution of Christians itself is global in scope, or it is confined only to one nation, you and I must, must, must be ready!
Already in America, churches are vandalized and burned. Freedom to speak freely about Christ and sin and righteousness is no longer welcome on many of our major and smaller colleges and universities. And do not think for a moment that anti-Christian persecution will not devolve into imprisonment on fabricated charges of sedition against the government.
So, while I hope to escape the impending persecution of Christians in America – while I hope for an escape through the rapture of the church – the rapture MIGHT NOT HAPPEN. And that is why I am bringing you this message this afternoon.
How then will we prepare for great persecution? I have several suggestions, all of which are rooted in God's word.
First – and by far what I think is the most important, know this: God is omnipotent. If we are going to successfully continue with Christ through persecution, then we must first and foremost know that absolutely critical point: God is omnipotent.
That means what He opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. As He tells us through Isaiah: “The nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales . . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Isaiah 40:15, 17).
And since the NATIONS are like drops in the bucket, how much less are individual national leaders? Which is certainly one reason God continues in chapter 51 of the same prophet: “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies . . . . that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor as he makes ready to destroy?” (Isaiah 51:12-13)
As we prepare ourselves for persecution – and we are very unwise to not do so – this truth must remain always before us: Our God is utterly omnipotent. No weapon formed against us can prosper. None! That is, unless God says it can prosper. And this same omnipotent God is your Father because of your obedient faith in His only begotten Son – Jesus.
But – and this is an important question: But HOW will we know that we know that we know God is omnipotent, AND that ALL peoples – including political leaders – are impotent unless God permits them power?
There is only one way to know that we know – and that is by growing deeper in our relationship with God. How do we strengthen our relationship with Him? I keep drawing us back to studying the Bible because faith ALWAYS comes by hearing – and hearing always comes by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17).
It’s the faith Hebrews 11 talks about, and especially in the latter third of that chapter when the writer points to those whose faith stood them tall for God, even when things were going horribly wrong. Notice these words of praise from God to those who: “[E]xperienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:36-40)
Our faith must be rooted in God‘s word. There are no other viable and effective options. The HISTORIC teaching of the Church is rooted in God's word. The sacraments are rooted in God's word. And, as I said a moment ago, faith always comes by hearing the word of Christ. (See Romans 10:17)
Are you faithfully reading or listening to God's word? If not, why not? Are you memorizing portions of God's word? If not, why not?
Solomon tells us: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer, or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” Proverbs 6:6-9)
The time to start memorizing scripture is NOT when you need to have scripture hidden in your heart. Do you realize if you memorize only ONE NEW VERSE of scripture every week – ONE VERSE – you will have memorized 52 NEW verses a year from today?
So, that is the first strategy – know that you know that you know our God and Father is omnipotent.
The next strategy is that we should EXPECT persecution. As St. Peter wrote to his first century readers who were also enduring severe persecution: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:12-14,19)
Persecution can take many forms and many degrees – from simply being ridiculed for our faith, all the way to the extreme or torture and death for our faith. The degree to which any of God's true children suffer persecution will depend entirely on what our omnipotent daddy permits into our lives. But be certain of this promise: He will never permit any of us to be tried beyond our ability through Christ to endure (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Do not give a moment’s credence to liars who deceive their congregations and their readers by telling them God will never send hardship to His children. Listen! There is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to warn the Philippian Christians: “It has been GRANTED to us not only to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)
Paul knew what he was talking about when he talked about persecutions. Here is what he wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren . . .” (2 Corinthians 11:24ff)
And there is a reason Paul warned Timothy – and us – “All those who live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
The Holy Spirit did not say, ‘some’ or even ‘most’ who live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. He said ALL. If we truly live faithful to God's revealed word, believing His words are inerrant and infallible, then we will be living contrary to the way society tells us we should live and believe. And THAT will get people angry at us. As Scripture tells us, people who prefer darkness want only to live in their darkness. The light of Christ in us disturbs them.
The next strategy to help us successfully endure persecution brings us to how we must live our relationship with Christ. We must start – if we have not already – make ourselves to be as Scripture defines us – that being, SLAVES of Jesus Christ.
Yes, the images of what that word ‘slavery’ conjures are frightening and terrible. But those images of human slavery should never, never, never deter us from viewing our slave-master relationship with God as anything other than merciful, compassionate, loving, pure, and life-giving.
Listen, we have been bought with a price – the precious blood of God's own Son. That means we are His property. And this ought to be an encouragement for us in times of persecution. Why? Because God takes care of His property as only God can take care.
If we want to walk closer with Christ during persecution, recognize and force yourself if necessary to be a better slave of Christ. Listen to how the apostles described themselves: Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, (Romans 1:1). Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ, (Jude 1:1); Peter, a slave . . . of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1); James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1) John, a slave of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1)
Do you see the pattern? I hope so.
Our bibles translate the Greek word, “Doulos” as bondservant, or servant, or slave. Context always determines the meaning. But in every century, slaves had no rights. They were the property of their masters, and as such they owned nothing. Not even their clothing belonged to them. They typically had no family, except the family given them by their master. And in many cultures, including America of the 19th century, slaves lived or died at the whim of their master.
Not surprising, then, to be a slave in the first century meant to carry an enormous cultural stigma. That is why the gospel message was so counter-cultural to Greek, Roman, and Jewish culture of the time because the apostles BOASTED about being slaves of Jesus Christ – the One who had bought them with a price, the One who had given them everything they had. As Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Are we slaves of Jesus Christ? We call ourselves ‘Christians’ – but anymore that word had been so diluted by both the culture and those in church pews that the word no long means what is meant to the Christians of the first centuries who willingly DIED for their Master.
That is why, as we prepare ourselves for persecution, I think it is wise to consider ourselves not simply ‘Christians’ – but as slaves of Jesus Christ – slaves who own NOTHING but what Christ as given us – health, wealth, time, talent, family, property, and so forth. And so, if we should LOSE any of those things because of persecution, we lose only what was given us by God in the first place. No wonder we read in Hebrews:
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 10:32-36)
And finally. for today, to be able to successfully walk with Christ through persecution EXPECT Satan to raise up false teachers and pastors to weaken our faith – because a weak faith makes us more susceptible to failure in our walk.
Be on guard against false teachers. These men, children of Satan in clerical clothing, these wolves in sheep clothing, tells tens of thousands of their followers devilish lies such as God wants doesn’t care if you are gay or straight, if you love each other. They teach their biblically illiterate congregations that Jesus is NOT the almighty God incarnate in the flesh of a man. They tell their sheep that the Scriptures are not the fully inspired, inerrant, and infallible word of God. They teach that hell, if it exists, is empty because a God of love would never send anyone to an eternal lake of fire. They teach that God wants us all to be materially wealthy.
“Beware of the false prophets,” Jesus warned, “who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15)
I am convinced that global tribulation is at our doorstep. And a deadly persecution of true followers of Christ cannot be far behind. The time is long past for Christians to hold a ‘business as usual’ approach to our walk with Christ. We must not – we MUST NOT – let ourselves be caught off guard for what is coming. And it can prove to be a most DEADLY error to expect the rapture to take us all out of this impending horror.
As I said, I could be wrong about the impending global catastrophes and persecution. But even if I am wrong – it still is safety for our souls to remember God is utterly omnipotent. That we are His slaves. That we cannot mature in our faith without being fluent in God's word. And we must beware of false teachers and preachers, regardless of their credentials.
Wrong or right, these strategies I have shared with you WILL HELP us successfully stand for Jesus in even the most horrific of persecutions. I beg you; I beg you. Please take them to heart.