MATTHEW 24: PERSECUTION OF THE DISCIPLES

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. Matthew 24:9 (NKJV)

Let us remember this context of this prophecy.
Remember the disciples’ question? “What shall be the sign of your coming and, and of the end of the age?”What end is he talking about here? Unless we take this verse clear out of its setting, “the end” in view here is the end or destruction which was to come upon Jerusalem and the temple ending the Jewish age. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but first certain things must occur as a build up to that event.

We have looked at other signs which Jesus called the beginning of sorrows. Now we find ourselves at vs 19 and Jesus is seen talking about a coming persecution.

So the questions arise. Who will be delivered up and killed? THE DISCIPLES!

Did the disciples experience tribulation and death? Yes!
The book of Acts is a rich source of history when it comes to that.
Luke’s gospel throws some light into this aspect of the prophecy.
“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.” Luke 21:12 (NKJV)

Notice that Luke states, “before all these things,” showing that the persecutions are to start at the beginning of this period. The persecution of the disciples began immediately after the day of Pentecost when the received the Holy Spirit.

Look at the parallel account from Mark.
“But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. Mark 13:9 (NKJV)

Mark adds that they will be beaten in the synagogues, brought before rulers and kings for a testimony. All this was notably fulfilled in the lives of the disciples. They knew that the persecution was a precursor to the events leading to the destruction of that city and the full manifestation of the Messiah in his kingdom.

Look at the stats.

Peter and John were imprisoned:
And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. Acts 4:3 (NKJV)

Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned:
“And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” Acts 16:23-24 (NKJV)

Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:59): James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2).

Paul was brought before Gallio (Acts 28:12), Felix (Acts 24:24), and Agrippa (Acts 25:23). As soon as Paul began preaching, he began to experience persecution:
“Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. 24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.” Acts 9:23-24, 29 (NKJV)

Paul was beaten five times by the Jews:
“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one”. 2 Corinthians 11:24 (NKJV)

At length, about two years before the Jewish war, the first general persecution commenced at the instigation of the emperor Nero, “who,” says Tacitus, “inflicted upon the Christians punishments exquisitely painful.” Multitudes suffered a cruel martyrdom amidst derision and insults, and among the rest, were the venerable apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Jesus continues—”And ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt. 24:9). “It was a war,” says Tertullian, “against the very name; to be a Christian was of itself crime enough.” And to the same effect is that expression of Pliny in his letter to Trajan: “I asked them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it, I asked them a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment, and those who persevered I commanded to be led away to death.” It is added, “Of all nations.” Whatever animosity or dissensions might subsist between the Gentiles and the Jews on other points, they were at all times ready to unite and co-operate in the persecution of the humble followers of Him who came to be a light to the former and the glory of the latter.

The Jewish persecution of the church grew as the day went by. As the Apostle declared the gospel of grace, the Jews were threatened by what they called “The way”. Christianity was a threat to the foundation that made them Jewish; the law of Moses. Look at the case of Stephen in Acts 6:

11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. 13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous[c] words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”

Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonians

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

The persecution from the Jews based on the 2 major issues:
1. Christianity declared the end of the Jewish religion, Mosaic covenant and its system of worship and observances.
2. That God would destroy the temple and the land if his people kept rejecting Messianic place of Jesus and his kingdom.

It was totally against everything they lived up all their lives. What they did not realize what Jesus fulfilled the law for the them and for all mankind and ended the system of sacrifices by being the last. The one that eventually pleased God for all time and all men. This would pave the way for the Abrahamic blessings to reach all men through faith. But in their ignorance and sheer zeal they persecuted the ones that bore the good news. Just like they did to Jesus they also repeated same to the disciples by handing them over the Roman government even to the point that they declared that they had no king but Caesar in their harlotry garments.

According to church history, the first persecution of the Church took place in 64AD, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that ‘he wished the ruin of all things before his death.’ Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.

This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves.

Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.

This same tyrant banished the Apostle John to the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. As Church father Eusebius notes: “Nero was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.” Sulpicius Severus concurs: “He first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” In his Annals, Roman historian Tacitus points to those who were persecuted as “those who . . . were vulgarly called Christians.” Roman historian Suetonius concurs, for in a list of the few “positive” contributions of Nero as emperor, he includes the fact that Nero persecuted Christians: “During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made:. . . . Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”

Noted church historian J. L. von Mosheim wrote of Nero’s persecution: “Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation, but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took place by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November, in the year of our Lord 64. . . . This dreadful persecution ceased but with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until the year 68, when he put an end to his own life.” (L. von Mosheim, Historical Commentaries, I:138,139).

His bestial cruelty is evidenced in the writings of the Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 70-160), who speaks of Nero’s “cruelty of disposition” evidencing itself at an early age. He documents Nero’s evil and states: “neither discrimination or moderation [were employed] in putting to death whosoever he pleased on any pretext whatever.” Suetonius notes that Nero “compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman knights, some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena.”

Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world.” Roman satirist Juvenal (A.D. 60-140) speaks of “Nero’s cruel and bloody tyranny.” Elsewhere, he calls Nero a “cruel tyrant.”

Clearly the beast as we know in the bible fits no other person as it relates to proper timing reference for fulfillment is the emperor Nero.

Now lets look closely into John’s writings when he was banned on that island. In Revelation 13:7, the Beast is said to “make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Revelation 13:5 says that the beast would conduct such blasphemous warfare for a specific period of time: 42 months.

The Neronic persecution was instituted in 64 AD and lasted until his death in June 68 AD, which is three and a half years, or 42 months! Nero fits the bill for the role of the beast!

At the height of this great persecution, the church was continually being comforted by the arrival of the Lord in judgment towards the land for shedding the blood of the righteous. In one of such instances Paul had to write to the church in Thessalonica.

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.[b]
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Peter also encouraged the church in 1 Peter 4:12-14
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.[d] On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

John in Revelation saw of the situation revealing the cry of the saints to bring to an end the persecution of the church.
9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number oft heir fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. (Revelation 6)

This corresponds to what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:8-9:
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,[b] not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

The Lord avenged the church because he takes it personally when anyone comes against His bride. Just like he told Paul “Why are you persecuting me”. The verdict was given in Revelation 16:1-6 upon the land of Israel as a final judgment to the end of the Jewish world.

Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying:
“You are righteous, O Lord,[b] The One who is and who was and who is to be,[c] Because You have judged these things. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For[d] it is their just due.”

Jesus said the disciples would be afflicted, beaten, imprisoned; they would be hated for his name’s sake and some would be killed; they would be brought before councils, rulers, and kings, for A TESTIMONY.

Jesus told them that they would be given a mouth of wisdom which their adversaries could not dispute. The disciples experienced all of this before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, in just the same the Lord said they would. It is one part that is undeniably fulfilled.

In those day many Christians were executed because their Jewish brethren turned on them in order to spare their lives.
Matthew 24:13 (NKJV) “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

Some take it to mean that if Christians do not remain faithful to Christ to the point of death or his return in the rapture then they would not be redeemed. That is not in line with the basics of redemption as it makes our salvation a work.

Jesus was telling the disciples that if they remain faithful right up to the end, they will be saved from physical death and be caught up in Jerusalem’s fall. The Greek word “saved” is sozo. It simply means to save, i.e. deliver or protect (lit. or fig.):–heal, preserve, be (make) whole. Those who would not endure and turned back to Judaism will die when Jerusalem fell. This is one of the essence of the book of Hebrews. As history confirms that those believers remained faithful fled to the mountains called Pella thus saving their lives.

Amidst the challenges, oppression and great tribulation the church continued and has survived centuries of persecution. Today’s it’s just getting better because the kingdom of God cannot be stopped. It will continue until the glory of the Lord covers the earth like the waters cover the sea.

There’s no need to fearfully anticipate another great persecution that would bring the end of the world. That has been fulfilled. We look now forward to the triumph of the church over the spirit of Ismael, those who would slander the gospel of grace. As always the church wins! Grace to you.

Credits:
www.biblestudytools.com, www.ecclesia.org, en.wikipedia.org

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