I am the kind of person who likes being prepared particularly if there is a potential problem or danger. So if there is a tornado warning for us, I’ve got my radio, laptop, and blankets ready down in the garage. Upon George’s advice I carry a headlamp when we hike in case we are out on the trail when darkness falls. I want to be prepared in case something bad happens.
Are we prepared for being treated with hostility because we are Christians? I’m not talking about people mocking Christians or making fun of our beliefs, but real persecution where our livelihoods and perhaps even our lives are at risk. And while it seems unlikely for us, it is an awful reality for many other brothers and sisters in Christ in the world. Jesus says that the world will hate those who follow him. Jesus prepares us for such persecution in Mark 13:1-13.
I. Jesus makes it clear that persecution will happen.
They were evidently marveling in particular at the massive size of the stones which were used in the substructure and structure of the Temple. Josephus says that the temple was built of ornate white stones some of which were about 40 feet long and 3-4 feet in height and 7 feet wide. The Jews didn’t like Herod but begrudgingly admitted that the temple he had rebuilt and expanded for them was impressively magnificent.
In response Jesus tells them in verse 5 to “watch out” against deceivers. Jesus warns that people may be led astray by false leaders who appear in his name in a crisis situation. Some will claim to be God and claim to have this authority of the Messiah. They will lead people to believe that the time of God’s judgment is now here.
And in verse 7 Jesus warns that when the disciples hear of wars or rumors of wars, they are not to be alarmed or diverted from their task for this does not mean that the end is near. The Bible frequently depicts war as a time of God’s visitation. Wars, in themselves, however, do not indicate that the final judgment is at hand. Jesus emphasizes this even more in verse 8 where he speaks of “nation being against nation, kingdom against kingdom.”
Earthquakes also are part of God’s plan in history as are famines. Jesus’ point is that no matter how major these things are and how big of a calamity, these are not signs of the end of the age. They are only marks of the beginning of a period of suffering which can be expected to become more intense. In fact, Jesus uses a term that the rabbis would use: the birth pangs of the Messiah. In the Old Testament birth pangs are a recurring image of God’s judgment. Jesus insists that these crises are just the beginning of the difficulties to come.
II. In verses 9-10, Jesus makes it clear that during these trials persecution will occur.
The disciples must be on their guard for they will be “handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.” First of all the Jews will arrest them, charge them with blasphemy and they will be tried in the local Jewish courts. They will be found guilty and then whipped in public in the synagogue. The Jews would then likely turn them over to the civil authorities. There they would be tried as disloyal citizens before the civil rulers, from local rulers to governors to kings, all the way to the emperor. In that setting, as they defend themselves and present their case to these pagan rulers, they will have the opportunity to be witnesses for Jesus.
Jesus reminds the disciples that they are after all on a mission to preach the gospel. This will be accomplished not only to the Jews but to all nations. After the gospel is preached, then the triumphant kingdom will come. The point that Jesus is making is that when the gospel is preached, there will be persecution that must be endured but it is all part of God’s overall plan for his kingdom.
The average western Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. Persecution is happening all around us in our world and it’s happening a lot!
III. So how does Jesus say we should handle this and what we should say?
Jesus gives the powerful answer in verse 11. When the disciples are standing before kings and rulers they may feel very afraid. Imagine that without any warning, and without being in any trouble before, you were arrested and brought to trial. It would be very frightening! What do you say? What do you do? The disciples might be worried but Jesus says that in that situation they just have to just say what comes to their mind if they didn’t have time to prepare a defense.
How can they do this? The Holy Spirit will give words to say. This means that the Spirit will give them ideas for them to say in their defense and will take their words and make them powerful. They had this promise from Jesus himself that the Spirit will do this for them.
Today the Spirit helps us as well as we face difficulties or face questions from others. There are many opportunities for us today to defend our faith. What do you say to someone who is dying or going through a serious illness and asking very serious questions? What do you say to the young couple going through a divorce? Or the family whose life is being torn apart by a rebellious teenager? What do you say when co-workers engage in a little Christian bashing?
There are many opportunities but so often we are at a loss for words. When that happens think of Jesus’ words in verse 11. Answer whatever comes to mind and trust that if you sincerely are trying to represent your faith, the Holy Spirit will help you and give you words to speak.
Jesus then becomes very specific about the results of persecution in verses 12-13. He says, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” The point is that persecution may well tear families apart. Standing firm in the Christian faith may make you vulnerable to all kinds of abuse from every possible person including family members. Therefore, to endure this calls for a great commitment for it may require a higher devotion to Christ than to our families.
But the point that Jesus makes is that all of this will happen because of him. When a Christian suffers abuse or receives a beating, the one that the persecutor is really aiming at is Jesus; they are attacking Jesus, not you. Jesus’ point is that persecution may be very difficult and frightening.
Two years ago, one news source reported that Islamic State (ISIS) assassins were infiltrating refugee camps and murdering Christians in their beds. The fanatical jihadis were sending teams of trained killers into camps disguised as refugees to kidnap and kill vulnerable Christians. But refugees are terrified to report many of the killings in case they are targeted next. The horrifying tactic emerged after one terrorist got cold feet and renounced jihad after witnessing Christians helping out other refugees within the camp. He then revealed that he had been sent with an Islamist hit squad to eliminate Christians as part of the hate group's ideological drive to wipe Christianity off the map. Christians are being targeted all over the world and it’s a real threat but we should not be surprised for that is what Jesus said would happen.
IV. Jesus concludes by promising, “But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
This is no promise of escaping persecution from being a Christian in a hostile world. But the comfort is that in spite of this, the one who endures will stand before God in heaven who is the final and ultimate judge. It will not matter if you have been treated unfairly, beaten or even killed. If a person holds on to the end, God will show him that he is not guilty. And God will welcome you as a faithful servant for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we need to realize this message in this society. We need to stand firm! We need to work for justice and for our rights as citizens in this country. We should work to feed the hungry and provide shelter to the homeless. We should fight for our rights as Christians in a country where freedom of religion is a promised right. But let’s not be surprised when our rights are abused or when evil flourishes. That is the way that Jesus said it was going to be. We can expect to face a lot of heat and pressure for our faith simply because the world is in the midst of a battle between Christ and Satan. The victory has been won, but the battle still goes on and we should expect some casualties.
Then they shipped him to a Siberian prison. For a while he was given special privileges as he played violin in the prison ensemble as a propaganda tool. Georgy used it as an opportunity for ministry and sharing the gospel with others as well as encouraging the few Christians that he found. But when he refused to renounce and give up his faith even when offered release if he would do so, Georgy was put to the work of digging out iron ore. It ruined his hands so that he would never be able to play a violin again. Finally, after a brief time, he was executed by a firing squad.
It is a tragic story but think of how many he reached with his words and music. And let’s remember above all that the one who endures to the end will be saved. Let’s pray that we will have the strength, regardless of what we face, to endure all the way to the end of our lives.