Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Uncompromised Spirit: Fires Of Persecution

"I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." Rev. 1:9. John was banished because he was a witness for Christ in the preaching of the gospel. At that time Christianity was outlawed as a form of *treason* against the Roman gods. ** Paul declared that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution **." It has always been the fate of Christians, and especially of the prophets of God, to suffer persecution and sometimes martyrdom. Satan never persecutes his own citizens, nor does he afflict cold or lukewarm church members. It was the *godliness* of the early Christians that brought on them the wrath of the great adversary. This explains why *persecution is largely unknown to the modern church*. This fact is set forth by a well-known Christian writer: "Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber? The only reason is, that the church has ** conformed to the world's standard ** [Woe to them that are at ease in Zion], and therefore awakens no opposition. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and His apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled." [Ellen G. White (SDA), The Great Controversy, p. 48]

Christ prophesied that persecution would be the fate of His followers, including His immediate disciples. (Matt. 23:34-36.) This prediction was literally fulfilled. His forerunner, John the Baptist, was beheaded by order of King Herod; Christ Himself was scourged and crucified; Stephen was stoned to death; James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa; Philip was scourged, imprisoned, and crucified; Matthew was killed with a halberd; James the Less was stoned, and his brains were dashed out with a fuller's club; Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded; Andrew was crucified at Edessa; Mark was dragged to pieces by an infuriated mob on the streets of Alexandria; Peter was crucified, head downward at his own request; Paul was beheaded at Rome by order of Nero; Jude, the brother of James, and who was also called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa; Bartholomew was beaten and crucified; Thomas was thrust through with a spear; Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece; Simon Zelotes was crucified in Britain; and John was persecuted and banished to Patmos, and was the only one of the early disciples who died a natural death. [See Fox's Book of Martyrs]

Persecution for Christ's sake has always been a blessing in disguise. Of the Israelites in Egypt we read that the more they were persecuted "the more they multiplied and grew." Thus it has ever been. The ten pagan Roman persecutions of the early church were terrible beyond description, but during that period Christianity made its greatest progress. By the end of the first century it is estimated that there were more than six millions of Christians in the Roman Empire, and by the end of the third century Christianity had supplanted paganism as the religion of the empire. The first Gospel seeds were watered by the blood of martyrs, and bountiful was the harvest.

Tertullian wrote to a persecuting Roman ruler: "Kill us, torture us, grind us to dust. ... The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in numbers we grow; the blood of Christians is seed." (Apology, chap. 50.) This experience was repeated during the persecutions of the Middle Ages, and will be repeated again just before Christ returns. (Matt. 24:21, 22; Rev. 7:13, 14.) [excerpted from The Seven Epistles of Christ, chapter 1, The Crown Jewel of Prophecy, by Taylor G. Bunch, 1947]

Out of a Roman penitentiary came the Apocalypse to bless Christendom. From the barren rocks of the volcanic hills of Patmos came the book that completes and crowns the canon of Scripture. Although his only earthly companions were criminals, John did not become discouraged and lose hope. He rose above his circumstances and environments. Although he had been compelled to sever his connections with home and loved ones, he maintained his union with God and held communion with heavenly beings. ** We should be thankful for the bleak and barren places of life that cut us off from all earthly help so that heaven can draw near **. Lonely Patmos became to the prophet "the house of God" and "the gate of heaven." A monastery now crowns the summit of the most nearly central height, where tradition says John received his visions. It was built eight centuries ago and dedicated to "Saint John."

From the places of exile and affliction have come the characters and literature and music that have been the greatest blessing to mankind. While in exile, facing the wrath of his brother Esau, Jacob in his extremity found God, and his character was so transformed that he was given a new name to correspond to his new character. It was while Joseph was in exile in Egypt that he developed a character that gave him the blessings of heaven and the favor of Pharaoh. He became a savior of the nation and of his own people. Moses was a fugitive when he met and talked with God at the burning bush, where he received his commission to deliver Israel from affliction and bondage. While a fugitive from the wrath of Pharaoh he wrote the books of Genesis and Job.

The experience of David while fleeing from the wrath of Saul brought him the greatest blessings of his life. It was during this time that he produced the best and most spiritual of his psalms. Elijah was in exile fleeing from the wrath of the angry Jezebel when he heard the "still small voice" directing him to his last work, which culminated in his translation by means of the fiery chariot. Ezekiel and Daniel wrote their great prophecies during Babylonian captivity. Tyndale and Luther produced their Bible translations while fugitives from the wrath and power of papal Rome. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress came out of Bedford jail to bless the world. In the dark room of affliction and hardship the greatest characters have been developed and the greatest literature has been produced. Such also is the noble heritage of the Revelation. [quoted source unknown]


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