The Christian Handbook on Persecution
Peter’s first epistle was written to Christians suffering persecution. It was a circular epistle meant to be circulated among churches in five Roman provinces, all of which were located in Asia Minor, which is northern Turkey today. These churches were being persecuted by the Roman Empire, which was the “Babylon”—Gentile world power or superpower—of that time. Peter, who wrote this epistle from Rome, where the last decade of his life was spent and where he was eventually martyred, actually calls Rome “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13.
The Bible predicts that the superpower of an end-time world will unleash unprecedented persecution against the church during the perilous times of the last days. The book of Revelation, the Bible’s most important prophetic book, calls this end-time superpower: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF ALL HARLOTS (Revelation 17:5). This world’s final “Babylon,” which was an unheard of mystery in Biblical times, was foreseen by John the Revelator as both the consummate world power and cruelest of all persecutors of the church.
Much to the chagrin of American evangelicals, the only power in the world today poised to play this Biblically predicted end-time role is America. Equally startling to today’s evangelicals is our country’s growing hostility toward the church and all things Christian. That America is becoming increasingly antichrist is absolutely irrefutable. Lady Liberty is conspicuously slipping into her Biblically predicted end-time role as the “MOTHER OF ALL HARLOTS.”
Like the recipients of Peter’s first epistle, you and I are about to suffer persecution at the hands of the “Babylon” of our time. In the case of the recipients of 1 Peter, it was Rome; in our case, it is end-time Rome, America. Therefore, the study of this divinely inspired Christian handbook on persecution should be seen as imperative for every Christian in today’s America, a country poised to become the greatest persecutor of the Christian church in all of human history.
It is believed that Peter wrote his first epistle from Rome around 64 AD. The persecution his readers were suffering was at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero. Some scholars argue that Peter penned his epistle on the precipice of Nero’s persecution, while others argue that he penned it in the initial throes of it. Those who argue Peter penned it on the precipice of Nero’s persecution point to 1 Peter 2:17 as a proof text for their position. According to them, it was still possible for Peter’s readers to “honor the king” at the time the epistle was written. Of course, this insinuates that it would not have been possible if Nero’s pitiless persecution had already commenced.
This raises a serious question for America’s contemporary Christians. When does patriotism become impossible under persecution? If Christian America, to which we once pledged allegiance, is no more, and current America has become antichrist, can we still salute the flag and sing the Star-Spangled Banner? What loyalty do we owe our country once it turns its sights on Christ our Lord?
While the Bible clearly instructs us to submit to government authority and to obey the laws of our land, as long as we can do so in submission to God and in obedience to His higher laws, we are not Biblically obligated to bow to a blasphemous government whose laws are contradictory to God’s commands. Much to the chagrin of America’s contemporary Christians, we’re nearing this line of contention in this country. I’m afraid we’ll soon find ourselves forced to choose between faithfulness to Christ or waving our country’s flag.
While we’ve always equated patriotism with Christianity in a Christian America, patriotism will become antithetical to Christianity in an antichrist America. Our heavenly citizenship will crash with our earthly citizenship once our country becomes the chief nemesis of our Christian Faith. How can Christians pledge allegiance to a country that prohibits them from professing and practicing their Christians Faith, as well as from preaching Christ to their fellow countrymen?
Truly, if the Christian’s divinely inspired handbook on persecution, 1 Peter, has ever been needed, it is today. Let us prayerfully peruse it to find answers to the important questions being posed by our present and precarious predicament in a land that has gone from being the protector of our faith to becoming the persecutor of our faith.
The persecuted churches to whom Peter wrote his first epistle were comprised of both Gentiles and Jews. These churches’ large contingency of Jewish believers undoubtedly touched a soft spot in Peter’s heart, whose ministry was primarily to the Jews, as Paul’s was to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8). Peter was undoubtedly passionate about penning this epistle, not only as an encouragement to Gentile believers, who were facing deprivation and death, but especially to Jewish believers, who suffered the double scourge of persecution, for being both Christians and Jews.
This double scourge of persecution suffered by Jewish Christians makes 1 Peter, the Christian’s handbook on persecution, even more relevant to us today. According to the Bible, the unprecedented persecution of the perilous times of the last days will target both Christians and Jews. In fact, Scripture predicts that two-thirds of the world’s Jewish population will be wiped out by end-time persecution.
According to the ancient Prophet Zechariah, only one-third of the world’s Jewish people will survive end-time tribulation (Zechariah 13:8-9). This surviving remnant is symbolized in Revelation by the 144,000 of chapter seven. Notice, they are sealed by the angels for their protection (Revelation 7:1-8), which is, as Hebrews 2:14 teaches, part of the ministry of the angelic host. Angels, according to the Bible, preserve God’s elect, those “who shall be heirs of salvation,” until the day of their salvation. Now we know why there is such rejoicing in the presence of the angels every time a soul is saved (Luke 15:10). Every saved soul is a mission accomplished by Heaven’s secret service, ministering angels sent to safeguard God’s elect until the day of their salvation.
It is no coincidence that our country, as well as our world, are becoming increasingly anti-Semitic at the same time they are becoming increasingly antichrist. The sights of both, our republic and our planet, are simultaneously being set on Christians and Jews. Truly, the Biblically predicted end-time persecution has arrived, and the Bible’s handbook for persecuted Christians, 1 Peter, has become required reading for all of those being targeted for persecution.
A Divinely Inspired Guidebook for Persecuted Christians (1 Peter 1:1a)
The Apostle Peter’s first epistle serves as the New Testament’s handbook for persecuted Christians. It informs us that our greatest opportunity to prove our Christian faith is when we fall under the intense pressure of this fallen world’s foremost persecution. By holding fast to our Christian profession, despite intense persecution, we prove and authenticate our Christian faith and make our most persuasive argument to others, even our persecutors, to come to faith in Christ themselves.
In this epistle, Peter calls upon the church, both its laity and clergy, to stand together against the onslaught of persecution, by not focusing our attention on our temporal trails, but on our eternal inheritance, which is reserved for us in Heaven by Jesus Christ, who is our living hope (1 Peter 1::3-4).
The fact that Peter introduces this epistle by identifying himself not only as it author, but also as an apostle of Jesus Christ, is very important (1 Peter 1:1a). His assertion of apostolic authority serves as authentication of the divine inspiration of this New Testament guidebook for God’s persecuted people. We know, therefore, that the truths contained in this book are divine and infallible. They can be trusted and will prove themselves true, even in the throes of the most tremendous persecution.
Knowing that we stand today on the precipice of the unprecedented and Biblically predicted persecution of the perilous times of the last days, makes 1 Peter required reading for the redeemed. If we are to ready ourselves for and remain faithful throughout what lies ahead, it is imperative that we now familiarize ourselves with the fundamental truths of this epistle, which serves as the Bible’s handbook for persecuted Christians.
Irreconciliable Differences (1 Peter 1:1b-2)
A fundamental flaw forestalling the contemporary church’s preparedness for impending and unprecedented persecution in these perilous times of the last days is the Christian’s ignorance of the world’s enmity with the church. In 1 Peter, the Bible’s handbook for persecuted Christians, the saints estrangement from this sin-cursed world is stated from the outset, lest the saints be both confounded and caught off guard by it.
According to Peter, the Christian is a stranger passing through a world at enmity with God (1 Peter 1:b-2). Furthermore, the estrangement of us celestial pilgrims from this terrestrial planet stems from a trio of truths. First, we are foreknown by God the Father, of whom the world is ignorant. Second, we are sprinkled by the blood of God the Son, by which the world is insulted. Third, we are sanctified by God the Spirit, of whom the world is incognizant. Therefore, Christ’s church and this Christ-rejecting world are inevitably estranged from one another over this trio of irreconcilable differences.
Multiplied Grace and Peace (1 Peter 1:2b)
Jesus taught us the tremendous truth of not worrying about tomorrow’s troubles with today’s grace (Matthew 6:34). Likewise, the Apostle Paul assured us that God will supply us at specific times with sufficient grace to bear up under every severe trial (1 Corinthians 10:13). The simple truth to be gleaned from Scripture is that God multiplies His grace to us whenever our troubles and trials multiply and mount.
The story is told of how D. L. Moody once prayed to God for dying grace. Fearful that he’d not die fearlessly, as a fitting testimony to his faith in Christ, Moody asked God to give him dying grace, so that he would no longer be terrorized by the transience of this life. However, once God answered Moody’s prayer, Moody immediately pleaded with God to take away the answer to his prayer, quickly realizing that dying grace was only for dying people.
One sure thing God’s saints need when suffering the scourge of persecution is for God’s grace and peace to be multiplied unto them. They need an abundant supply of both, if they are to bear up under so heavy a burden. Truly, only the bolstering of Heaven can enable them to bear what is humanly unbearable. Therefore, Peter prays from the outset of this epistle for God’s grace and peace to be multiplied to his persecuted brethren.
The Christian's Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3)
To weather the storms of this life, especially the typhoon of end-time persecution, the Christian must remember that his or her hope is not in this world. Any worldly hope is destined for the grave, since our fallen bodies are destined to return to the dust and our fallen world is passing away (Genesis 3:19; 1 John 2:17). As the Poet Thomas Gray so poignantly put it:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave
Awaits alike that inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
To persevere through the perils and persecutions of this passing life, the born again Christian must be ever mindful of the truth that his or her hope is in the resurrected Christ, who lives forevermore (Revelation 1:18). Therefore, his or her hope is a forever hope, not a worldly, temporal, or fleeting one. It is an everlasting and everliving hope that will last and live as long as Christ is alive (1 Peter 1:3)! Consequently, it is unconquerable, since it is impervious to the grave, transcends time, and is eternally unending.
The Christian's Confirmed Reservation and Incorruptible Inheritance (1 Peter 1:4)
The Apostle Paul taught us that the secret to perseverance in the adversities of the here-and-now is the promise of what awaits us in the hereafter. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul encourages us to faithfully endure for Christ the temporal trials of earth by reminding us that they are incomparable to the eternal glories of Heaven.
Peter, like Paul, also encourages us to faithfully endure the perils and persecutions of this world by reminding us that our reservation in Heaven cannot be cancelled and that our inheritance there cannot be corrupted (1 Peter 1:4). As Jim Elliot, a missionary who was murdered during his attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador, wrote in his diary, shortly before his death, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose!”
The Perseverance of the Saints (1 Peter 1:5)
A common misconception, which causes much Christian consternation, is the erroneous belief that the perseverance of the saints is dependent upon the saints’ hold on Christ. According to the Bible, the truth is the opposite. The saints’ perseverance is dependent upon Christ’s hold on them (Jude 1:1, 24). We don’t have to fear whether or not we will hold on to Christ, but put our faith in Christ, who will never let go of us.
We can be confident in any current persecution, as well as in the Biblically predicted and cataclysmic persecution to come, of being protected by God’s power (1 Peter 1:5). Furthermore, we can rest assured that God’s power will preserve us unto the consummation of our salvation at Christ’s Second Coming. No wonder Jesus said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Christ wasn’t saying that our endurance earns us our salvation, but that it serves as the evidence of our salvation. The proof that we’re in God’s hand is not our holding on to Him, but His holding on to us!
Tested Faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)
The joyful expectation of Christ’s soon return, which will reveal to us the totality of our salvation in Christ, should encourage and sustain us in our temporal trials. Furthermore, it is the fiery trial of persecution that serves as the gauge of the genuineness of our Christian profession (1 Peter 1:6-7). It proves the purity and preciousness of our faith, which we will celebrate and Christ will commend at His Coming.
As it has been rightly observed, a faith untested is no faith at all. As pure gold is proven in the fire, the Christian’s profession is proven in the fire of persecution. All who persevere the fiery trial of persecution prove the genuineness of their personal faith in Christ. Those who’ve not been tested have not been proven. Their faith remains suspect, since it’s yet unsubstantiated by the searing and substantiating flames of fiery persecution.
It is in the light of all the above, that Peter points out to us the benefit of persecution. As our Lord taught in Matthew 5:11-12, persecution should cause us to rejoice, since it not only proves our faith is as genuine as the faith of the persecuted prophets, but also assures us that we have a great reward awaiting us in Heaven. As confirmation of our Christian confession and eternal reward, persecution should be perceived as a two-edged sword, cutting us with the sadness of temporal adversity and, at the same time, with the gladness of eternal anticipation.
Seeing Persecution Through the Eyes of Faith (1 Peter 1:8-9)
Jesus said to Thomas, who insisted upon physical proof as a prerequisite to his profession of faith in the resurrected Christ, that those, unlike Thomas, who would believe without seeing physical proof, would be truly blessed (John 20:24-29). According to Peter, you and I can see the resurrected Christ today. However, it’s not through the eyes of our flesh, as Thomas did, but through the eyes of our faith.
It was the Apostle Paul who taught us the important lesson of looking through secondary reality into primary reality (2 Corinthians 4:18). According to Paul, we must see through visible, temporal, and earthly things into invisible, eternal, and heavenly things, where ultimate reality resides.
With the eyes of our faith focused and fixed on the resurrected Christ and primary reality, the Apostle Peter exhorts us to peer through the difficulties of persecution, in order to perceive persecution's divine purpose. By doing so, we are enabled, Peter explains, to see Christ working out the salvation of our souls through all of our sorrows, which, Peter adds, will also enable us to gloriously rejoice with great joy in all of our sufferings.
So Great a Salvation (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Is our salvation in Christ vulnerable to forfeiture? Do we stand weak-kneed upon it? Will it wither away in the weathering storms of life? Not according to the Apostle Peter, who declares our salvation in Christ to be both invincible and incomprehensible. Not only was our salvation in Christ predicted by the prophets and preached by the apostles, but it was also pondered by angels. How, then, can so great a salvation fail to maintain us in our misfortunes or be minimized by us in our minds? (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Be Ye Holy (1 Peter 1:13-16)
In this passage of his epistle, Peter presents some practicalities to be practiced in the pangs of persecution. Persecution demands that we “gird up the loins of our minds”; that is, stay levelheaded and laser-focused on our lone hope, which is our Lord’s soon return. Furthermore, we must forsake wicked ways and worldly things, in order to distinguish ourselves from our unholy persecutors as God’s holy people.
The Sole Fear of the Saints (1 Peter 1:17)
I loved my earthly father, but at the same time revered and feared him, especially during my childhood. I was assured of his love for me, but also keenly aware that if I willfully disobeyed him, he would without doubt discipline me. According to the Apostle Peter, all who call God their Heavenly Father should love, revere, and fear Him (1 Peter 1:17). While we can be certain of His unconditional love, we can also be confident of His chastening whenever we need correction.
Living in reverential fear of our loving Heavenly Father, not only because of the possibility of chastisement in the here-and-now, but also because of our ultimate accountability to Him in the hereafter, is never more necessary than in a time of persecution. It’s not that we can’t count on Christ to be sympathetic to us in our plight during persecution or impartial and just to us in His judgment afterward. Instead, it’s that our fear of God alone can override all our other fears, lest we be intimidated by any of them into apostasy.
Jesus Himself taught us how imperative it is for our fear of God to override our fear of man. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus taught us not to fear man, who can only take our temporal life, but to fear God alone, who can doom us to eternal destruction. How foolish it would be to forfeit one's immortal soul in an attempt to spare one’s temporal body. Yet, many a man is intimidated by men into eternal perdition under life-threatening persecution. Our Lord, however, taught us that it is far better to surrender our temporal bodies to martyrs’ graves in order to secure for our immortal souls the glories of Heaven.
The Price of Our Redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19)
To shore up the saints’ resolve to withstand the scourge of persecution the saints must continually remind themselves of the price payed for their redemption. We could not have purchased redemption for ourselves with all of the gold and silver of the world. So exuberant a price would have proven utterly insufficient for our salvation. Instead, our salvation had to be divinely obtained for us, since it is humanly unobtainable, at the inestimable price of the shed blood of God’s only begotten Son. Furthermore, since the divine blood shed for our salvation, unlike corruptible and perishable gold and silver, is most precious, being both incorruptible and imperishable, our divinely purchased salvation comes with a divinely promised eternal guarantee.
Once this most amazing of all Biblical truths is truly imbedded in the saint’s soul, he or she can never get away from this most remarkable of all divine revelations. Christ, who is all in all, gave His all for us on the cruel cross of Calvary. If He willingly suffered the scourge of crucifixion for us, how can we shrink from suffering the scourge of persecution for Him? If He lovingly gave His life for us, how can we not lovingly give our lives for Him? Truly, it is only by centering our attention upon the cross of Christ, His suffering and death for us, that we enable ourselves to endure persecution, even to the point of suffering and dying for Him.
Nowhere Else to Turn nor No One Else to Turn to (1 Peter 1:20-21)
Jesus Christ was already on His way to Calvary for our salvation before creation. He became a man to reveal God to us. And He was glorified by His resurrection, so that we may be resurrected to glory. Therefore, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, our foreordained, incarnate, and resurrected Savior, as the sole hope of our salvation. If we do, we will not turn from Christ during the fiery trails of persecution, since we, like Peter, will know that we have nowhere else to turn nor no one else to turn to except Christ, who alone can do the work and declare the words necessary for our salvation (John 6:68).
Persecution: The Proving Ground of a Pure Heart (1 Peter 1:22)
There is no greater time for Christians to prove the purity of their hearts, by their obedience to the truth and their love for one another, than during times of persecution (1 Peter 1:22). As white is made most conspicuous against a dark backdrop, the Christians’ purity of heart is made most conspicuous against the dark backdrop of persecution. To live for Christ and to love one’s fellow Christians at the risk of great cost and consequence to one’s self, is to prove the purity of one’s heart and the sincerity of one’s Christian profession.
Along with providing us with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the truthfulness of our Christian testimony, times of persecution also necessitate that we not only care about one another, but also care for one another. Christians must fervently love one another with an unfeigned love if they are to help each other to bear the burdensome pangs of persecution. Truly, it is only by walking shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand with one another that we can withstand together the withering wring of persecution.
How Firm a Foundation (1 Peter 1:23-25)
The Christian, even in the miry bog of this trying, transient, and topsy-turvy world, stands on solid and sound ground. In the midst of unsurety and uncertainty, there is one thing we can always be sure and certain about. It is the infallible, immutable, and eternal Word of God. As Jesus taught, all who dig in their heels to take a stedfast stand upon His Word can withstand the storms of life, even the typhoon of persecution (Matthew 7:24-27).
Whereas man’s physical birth provides mortal life, the Christian’s second or spiritual birth provides immortality. As all that stems from perishable seed, such as grass and flowers, perishes, all that stems from the imperishable seed of the Gospel, which lives and abides forever, will never perish. Therefore, Christians can fearlessly face the fiery trials of this life with the calm assurance that even if their mortal body and earthly life is dissolved, they have an immortal body and eternal life awaiting them in Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1).
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