Reading 7 – Sabbath, December 9, 2006

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Matthew 5:10.
By Branko Cholich, U.S.A.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12.

Steps to persecution

The following Bible story explains how persecution develops: Eve, after bearing Cain, “bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.… And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Genesis 4:2-5, 8.

“Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, differed widely in character. Abel had a spirit of loyalty to God; he saw justice and mercy in the Creator’s dealings with the fallen race, and gratefully accepted the hope of redemption. But Cain cherished feelings of rebellion, and murmured against God because of the curse pronounced upon the earth and upon the human race for Adam’s sin. He permitted his mind to run in the same channel that led to Satan’s fall – indulging the de-sire for self-exaltation and questioning the divine justice and authority….

“Cain, disregarding the Lord’s direct and explicit command, presented only an offering of fruit. There was no token from heaven to show that it was accepted. Abel pleaded with his brother to approach God in the divinely prescribed way, but his entreaties only made Cain the more determined to follow his own will. As the eldest, he felt above being admonished by his brother, and despised his counsel….

“Cain obeyed in building an altar, obeyed in bringing a sacrifice; but he rendered only a partial obedience.” – Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 71, 72.

Cain’s actions demonstrate a few of the steps taken before someone becomes a persecutor. (1) Disobedience: Not at peace with God in the matter of the sacrificial system, Cain disobeyed the instructions given to him. (2) Envy: When God accepted his brother’s sacrifice, while Cain’s was rejected, Cain envied his brother. (3) Hatred. Cain’s hatred led to persecution, which culminated in murder.

Not every sinner reaches the final step in this process. Some stop at envying, others at hating, but the true enemy of God’s people goes through all three steps. We find this pattern in many other cases of persecution recorded in the Holy Scriptures.

King Saul’s persecution of David

When King Saul, in direct disobedience to the instruction of God, did not destroy all the animals in his war against the Amalekites, keeping them instead for sacrifices, Samuel rebuked him:

“Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23.

Samuel rightly described Saul’s deed not only as disobedience but also as “rebellion.” Rebellion is deliberate disobedience. Because of Saul’s continual rebellion against God, “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” 1 Samuel 16:14.

“And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.

“And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.

“And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice. And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him.” 1 Samuel 18:6-12.

Saul, understanding well that public opinion was against him but in favor of David, hated the young man and even wanted to kill him.

When a man is disobedient to God, he envies the righteous, hates him, and finally persecutes him. Although David, the king admitted, was much better than he, Saul remained unconverted.

The persecution of Daniel

The story of Daniel, called “greatly beloved” by a heavenly messenger (Daniel 9:23), is well known to every Bible reader. We are acquainted with Daniel from his captivity in Babylon to the time of persecution for his faith in the kingdom of Persia. Knowing Daniel’s performance in the Babylonian court, King Darius made Daniel the first prime minister in the Persian kingdom.

Other ministers, in lower positions than Daniel, envied him. Because they were pagan, they had never been obedient to the God of heaven – so their envy quickly turned into hate. They might also have envied Daniel if he were Persian, but they actually hated him because he was a faithful Jew and an excellent officer. We know very well how they persecuted him.

Daniel’s story illustrates the steps that lead to persecution: disobedience to God, envy, and hatred. Those who obey God will not envy, hate, or persecute other people.

“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” 1 John 5:18.

Christ’s persecution

“From the time of their entrance to the land of Canaan,

[the Israelites] departed from the commandments of God, and followed the ways of the heathen. It was in vain that God sent them warning by His prophets. In vain they suffered the chastisement of heathen oppression. Every reformation was followed by deeper apostasy.

“Had Israel been true to God, He could have accomplished His purpose through their honor and exaltation. If they had walked in the ways of obedience, He would have made them ‘high above all nations which He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor.’” – The Desire of Ages, p. 28.

When Jesus came to this earth, the Jewish nation was deep in apostasy and disobedience to God. Christ’s wonderful work and teaching were met with envy and hatred, culminating at Calvary. This nation continued to persecute Him by persecuting His followers but, clearly, their first step toward persecution was disobedience to God.

Persecution in the early Christian era

Christians who preached the gospel of Christ in pagan countries reaped persecution because they strongly opposed idolatry as well as the immorality of paganism. The Christian message disturbed the lives of those who enjoyed the pleasures of sin. In Greece and Rome, the upper classes engaged in pagan festivals that includ-ed orgies deeply contradictory to Christian morality and righteousness. For rebuking such sins, Christians were persecuted.

Persecution in the Christian era

The longest period of severe persecution during the Christian era was the 1,260 years at the hands of the dragon and the first beast of Revelation 13:1-10.
We know that the persecution mentioned above was brought to an end prior to 1798 through the influence of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Then the two-horned beast ascended to world power. Today, the people of God in the territory of the two-horned beast do not suffer religious persecution.

But we should not forget that a great part of this world is now under the direct dominion of the dragon, paganism. At the hands of non-Christian nations, many who keep the commandments of God suffer a certain kind of persecution today.

According to Daniel 7:12, the dominions of all beasts but the dragon were limited to “a season and time.” But with the dragon we have a different experience. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman [the church of God], and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17. This war had been brought from heaven down to this earth. Genesis 3:16. The persecution of God’s people started right then. The seed of the woman, “which is Christ” (Galatians 3:15), was also persecuted, but not devoured, by the dragon.

The remnant of the seed of the woman is a faithful people. This war will come to an end after the millennium, when the dragon (Satan) and Gog and Magog (all unsaved people) will finally be destroyed.

Satan uses not only pagans to persecute the people of God but also their own relatives, apostate Christians, and false brethren in the church. “There have ever been two classes among those who profess to be followers of Christ. While one class study the Saviour’s life, and earnestly seek to correct their defects and conform to the Pattern, the other class shun the plain, practical truths which expose their errors.” –The Great Controversy, p. 43. See also Isaiah 66:5; 2 Corinthians 11:26; Matthew 10:21.

Persecution in the Laodicean era

The third angel’s message began in 1844 and will continue to the end of the time of mercy. The message is very short, but it will be given to the entire world with great power and glory in the time of the loud cry. We understand that everything is now in preparation for the persecution of God’s people. But this does not mean that the people of God will not go through any crisis before that time.

Forty years after the third angel’s message started, the following statement was made in Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 4, pp. 49, 50: “Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber? … It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin.… 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.”

Thirty years after this statement was made, a revival of the faith and power of the early church took place among some of those who were preaching the third angel’s message, and the fires of persecution were rekindled against faithful believers. In the time of World War I, in 1914, the faith of God’s professed people was severely tested in Europe. In those years, Europe was the cultural center of the world, and the center of the military power of all nations.

God permitted this test to happen in Europe. History reveals that the great majority of Sabbath-keepers disobeyed God’s commandments. This was the first step that led to persecution. Envy and hatred against the faithful people followed. Then the faithful ones were persecuted, and some of them even suffered death. This is in harmony with the statement from Spirit of Prophecy given above, that when there is a revival of faith and power, the fire of persecution will be rekindled.

In the very beginning of the war in Europe, on the first two Sabbaths, members of certain churches had different opinions about taking part in war. Most of the ministers agreed that church members had to obey the order of the government and take part in the war. Those who rejected this new teaching were disfellowshiped from the church and forbidden to attend its meetings. Some who were drafted to do military service but hid instead, were betrayed by apostate ministers. The faithful ones were persecuted, and some of them even suffered death. In this way, the membership was divided into two parts – a few faithful ones and the great majority, who fell in apostasy. Since that time, two churches have existed. The faithful ones were envied, hated, and persecuted by those who were disobedient to God.

After World War I came to an end, many efforts were made by Reformers to reconcile differences with the other group. The leaders of this great multitude acknowledged that their apostasy had been an error and apologized, saying that those who had committed that error sincerely regretted it. But then God permitted World War II to reveal how sincere their confession was. Their disobedience was more evident than in World War I, and the fire of persecution was rekindled against those who were faithful to their covenant with God.

“Never does man show greater folly than when he seeks to secure acceptance and recognition in the world by sacrificing in any degree the allegiance and honor due to God.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 151.

Last-day persecution

“As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side. Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls. They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren. When Sabbath-keepers are brought before the courts to answer for their faith, these apostates are the most efficient agents of Satan to misrepresent and accuse them, and by false reports and insinuations to stir up the rulers against them.”–The Great Controversy, p. 608.

When the Sunday law is issued, the faith of God’s people will be severely tested. Those who are disobedient to the commandments of God will not only apostatize, but will be bitter enemies of God’s faithful people. Persecution will take place within the family, among relatives, friends, members and leaders of the church. All this stormy persecution will culminate in the issuance of the death decree.

The end of persecution

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3:12. God’s promised blessing to those who will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake is the kingdom of heaven. God did not promise His people a smooth life on this earth, but a faith strong enough to endure all difficulties, including persecution. The apostle Paul stated that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. By faith we can be obedient to God and never fall in apostasy. All those who endure to the end shall be saved.