Vol. 7, No. 10
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When Jesus began giving the signs of the coming fall of Jerusalem in Matthew 24, he told his disciples, in verse 9, "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake."We are not sure how others would have responded to such a prediction, but had we been living in that time and found ourselves among those to whom this statement was made, we doubt that such a prediction would have made us very happy. The prospect of being drawn before tribunals, legal or otherwise and being sentenced to flogging, scourging, even execution for preaching the Gospel of Christ would not be a great incentive to continue to do so. Perhaps many would have thought that this would be a good time to become "secret disciples" until this period of danger and death was over. We are sure that many disciples, when they learned of what they were going to suffer, were like those in John 6:66 in that they "went back and walked with him no more." However, there were myriads of brave souls, who with the strength they could draw from the Lord, resolved to follow him no matter the cost.
If one begins to study the Books of Acts, he is impressed with the great success of the Gospel, perhaps to the point that he overlooks the terrible "tribulations" that the early disciples suffered. Their first "run ins" with the Jews seemed innocuous enough. They were called before the Sanhedrin, commanded to preach no more in the name of Christ and then set free. However, it was not long until each time they came before the officials, their treatment became more and more severe. There were beatings and imprisonments that followed with the threat of even more dire punishments in the future unless they ceased their preaching of the Gospel of Christ "in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth."
By the time we arrive in Acts 6, we find the evangelist Stephen being falsely accused of speaking blasphemous words against the Temple and the Law. He was accused of claiming Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the Temple and change the customs that Moses delivered. Whether or not Stephen actually said this, one cannot tell for sure, but certainly, Jesus had taught that truth in his predictions of the destruction of the Temple on the Mount of Olives. Stephen then rehearsed the history of the Jews to those in the Council that day, showing they had always been a rebellious state against God and the Law of Moses, almost from the very moment God drew them out of Egypt. When they would no longer abide the truth being spoken to them, they rushed on Stephen and stoned him to death. As he was dying, Stephen cried out,"Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit." Now the killing Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:9 had begun. Only God knows how many thousands of souls followed that of Stephen into the portals of glory in the years to follow. In Acts 12, we read of the death of James, brother of John and son of Zebedee. So, it was as Jesus said it would be; they suffered tribulation, hatred and death during the first forty years of the history of the church.
Brethren, today we suffer little if any for the cause of Christ, especially here in the United States. It is against the law for anyone to do to us today what was done with the approval of authority in the days of which Jesus spoke. Although at times, we are beginning to feel the pressure from groups that hate Christians and want every vestige of our faith removed from public places (it reminds them of what terrible sinners they are), we do not suffer as did those early saints of God. None of us, at least in the United States, has been threatened, imprisoned, beaten or killed because we are teaching people to follow the meek and lowly Nazarene. What a great debt of gratitude we owe those first century saints who so willingly suffered that all the world might have the opportunity to come to know Christ, our Redeemer.