The Coming Storm of Persecution

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.  Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.  For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” – Peter 4:12-19

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Early in the book of First Peter we are warned concerning personal persecution. We all endure at some point in our life a level of personal persecution or attacks against us because of our faith in Christ. However, in this passage, Peter warns believers of a coming storm of persecution. Peter warns of persecution, not just from individuals who ridicule our faith, but from organized governments. This is the ‘fiery trial’ that Peter warns us about. Weirsbe says, “Every Christian who lives a godly life experiences a certain amount of persecution. On the job, in school, in the neighborhood, perhaps even in the family, there are people who resist the truth and oppose the Gospel of Christ. No matter what a believer says or does, these people find fault and criticize. Peter dealt with this kind of “normal persecution” in the previous part of his letter. But in this section, Peter explained about a special kind of persecution—a “fiery trial”—that was about to overtake the entire church. It would not be occasional personal persecution from those around them, but official persecution from those above them. Thus far, Christianity had been tolerated by Rome because it was considered a “sect” of Judaism, and the Jews were permitted to worship freely. That attitude would change and the fires of persecution would be ignited, first by Nero, and then by the emperors that followed.”[1] In our day and time, we have seen organized persecution of the church at large in various countries around the world. We are also seeing signs of a looming storm of organized persecution in America and in many cases we are already experiencing it. In light of such organized persecution that may very well come against us, how are we to respond? In this passage we see a four part action plan to prepare ourselves for the coming storm.

Expect Persecution. In verse 12, Peter mentions that we are to not think it strange when the storm of persecution hits. In other words, don’t be caught off guard. We are to understand and realize that persecution is a fact of life for us as Christians. It should not surprise us when the world comes against us. “This conflict is illustrated throughout the Bible. Cain was a religious man, yet he hated his brother and killed him (Gen. 4:1–8). The world does not persecute “religious people,” but it does persecute righteous people. Why Cain killed Abel is explained in 1 John 3:12: “Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” The Pharisees and Jewish leaders were religious people, yet they crucified Christ and persecuted the early church.”[2] In our day, we find that religion is widely accepted and even encouraged. However, when you stand up for moral principles and for righteousness then you are labeled as a bigot and are persecuted. The real reason behind persecution is that the world does not like the idea of being held accountable to a certain standard of holiness and righteousness. Therefore, they tolerate religion, but they do not tolerate those who live and stand up for morality and righteousness. Because of this, we can expect that as Christians, we will be persecuted.

Embrace Persecution. In verses 13-14, we see that we are to rejoice when we suffer persecution, because in such sufferings, we are identifying with the sufferings of Christ. When we suffer persecution, we are blessed, because the spirit of God rests upon us. In other words, He is with us. He overshadows us in times of persecution. The world may do all kinds of evil against us, but in the midst of that evil we can experience the glory of God. This is why those who are severely persecuted through physical torture and death can sing praise to God in the midst of all the physical pain. How are you going to respond when a gunmen comes into your place of business or even your church and asks you if you are a follower of Jesus? In that moment, when you know that your life on earth hangs in the balance, how will be able to face it? How could you possible endure seeing your family tortured because of your refusal to deny Christ? We have heard story after story of Christians who suffered greatly just before their earthly life was taken away. Yet, they looked to the heavens with a smile on their face and a song on their lips. How is that possible? In the very moment of severe persecution, we can take comfort in knowing that God will give us a glimpse of His glory. He will reveal Himself to us like He has never done before and in the midst of the pain, we will see the glory of God.

Exalt God in Persecution. In verses 15-16, we find that in the midst of persecution, we are to give all glory and praise to God. We are to exalt Him. There is suffering that comes from sin. Peter mentions this in verse 15. Therefore, we should not respond to those who attack us by retaliating and committing sin ourselves. There is also suffering that comes from living a righteous life. It is far better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. When you suffer for doing right, God is glorified. Don’t be ashamed of suffering for being a Christian. The ultimate desire of every Christian is that God would be glorified, and if that means that we must suffer in order for God to be glorified, then so be it.

Engage in personal cleansing before the storm. There is a storm of persecution coming. My intent here is not to put fear in you, but to prepare you for what is to come. In verses 17-19 we see that in light of the coming storm of persecution, we must make sure that we are right with God. “Peter had referred to persecution and suffering as trials that refine and prove one’s faith (1:6–7) if reacted to in the will of God (3:17). Now he added that God allows persecutions as disciplinary judgment to purify the lives of those in the family of God.”[3] I really believe that the attacks on Christians in America today are allowed by God in order to bring the church back to Him. The church in America has failed to be salt and light to the world. We have allowed ourselves to be stained by the world. We have been caught up in our own comfort rather than standing for holiness and truth. Because of this, God is allowing us to experience persecution in order to discipline us and bring us back to Him. Not all persecution is a part of God’s discipline, however. Sometimes, we are persecuted for no reason at all. It’s the nature of the world we live in. Therefore, we must remind ourselves that judgment begins at the house of God. We must make sure that our walk with God is where it ought to be. We must repent of our sins and turn from our wicked ways. Perhaps then, God will remove the persecution and suffering from us. But, if not, we will also have a pure conscience before God as we face the storm of persecution.

Christians have been persecuted for centuries. There has been a constant battle between good and evil in the world ever since the fall of man. However, never before in history have we seen the persecution of Christians more widespread and severe. There is no end in sight to this trend. There will be great persecution of Christians continuously until Jesus comes. The real question to consider is: are we ready? Are you ready? Is your walk with God right? Is your faith strong? If you are faced with looking down the barrel of the gun of persecution this week, how will you respond? Are you ready for the storm?

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 423). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 424). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Raymer, R. M. (1985). 1 Peter. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 855). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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