Certainly, the youths of Singapore (or elsewhere, for that matter) are no strangers to the idea of preparation. They may often be found busy preparing for major examinations such as the PSLE*, GCE ‘O’, or ‘A’ levels. And many are also regularly involved in preparing for school-level artistic or athletic competitions. But in this article, we face the question: what are we doing to prepare for persecution?
What are we doing to prepare ourselves for the times when the world exerts its might and attempts to squeeze and press the church out of existence, and to silence her witness? Are we preparing earnestly? Are we preparing early? And indeed, how are we preparing?
Persecution, A Reality
The assigned title of this article assumes that there is, or will be persecution. However, I think it would do us well to briefly consider how this is not a mere assumption, but the reality revealed in Scripture.
The Christian church is an institution that has suffered, is suffering, and will continue to suffer persecution. From righteous Abel to the saints in the 21st century, persecution has been the lot of believers on this earth. Christ Jesus Himself states it as a requirement of being His disciple: “…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24, italics mine). This is not the cross of the general, common sufferings of mankind, but the cross that is borne because we bear the image of Christ and are hated of the world. For, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you… The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (Jn. 15:19, 20).
Believers are persecuted because we live differently from the world. We walk as children of light, testifying of the Light in this world of darkness. And the ungodly world will not put up with this! The apostles Paul and Peter respectively warned: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) and, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin” (1 Pet. 4:1). It is when we distinguish ourselves from the world by fighting against sin, witnessing by word and deed, that we suffer persecution for Christ’s sake.
Such persecution may take various forms. The apostle Paul gives an account of his own sufferings in 2 Cor. 11:24-27 which included being scourged, beaten with rods and stoned. Heb. 11 contains a vivid record of what the saints of old endured: “…others were tortured… And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented… they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (v. 35-38).
Yet it is not always that persecution comes as a direct threat of physical violence. Oftentimes, it also takes on more subtle forms. In a Standard Bearer article, Rev K. Koole describes this as “peer pressure”; a certain pressure to conform to the standards set by a dominant group such that our thinking and behaviour are affected (Koole, 1982, pg. 471-2). Our lives are regulated by what others think of us, and we grow more conscious of their judgements rather than of God’s. If we choose to reject conforming to their standards, we risk being outcast, scorned, reproached and ridiculed. Will we then give thanks before our meals in public? Will we reject invitations to pursue worldly entertainment? Will we seek first the kingdom of God, even at the expense of academic and material success or social status? This is what many of us have to grapple with, but how prepared are we to swim against the current of worldly influences and live according to the principles of Scripture?
And that is not all. Not only do we face such day-to-day persecution by virtue of being Christ’s followers, we also expect, sometime in the future, the great tribulation of which Christ spoke in Matt. 24. Over and against those who believe in the rapture of the church before such tribulation, or a “Golden Age” in which the world will be Christianised**, the Reformed (biblical) position asserts that the church will endure terrible persecution at the hands of the anti-Christian kingdom. Furthermore, this is not, ultimately, the persecution which occurred in AD 70 when the Romans besieged and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This was merely a foreshadowing of the final, incomparable persecution that will occur just before the coming of Christ.
The great tribulation will be one so great such as was not seen since the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever shall be. A persecution fronted by the man of sin (2 Thess. 2:3), that beast from the sea (Rev. 13:1-8), when he is revealed and rises to accomplish world domination. A persecution so fierce that its days will be shortened for the elect’s sake. A persecution during which those faithful to our Lord will not be able to buy or sell, and indeed, are killed (Rev. 13). All these will finally culminate in the destruction of the church institute, described in Rev. 11 as the killing of the two witnesses.
Preparing for Persecution
Having discussed the reality of persecution, we come now to (1) the need, and (2) the means of preparing for persecution.
Why is it needful for us to prepare for persecution? As mentioned in the beginning, most of us are well associated with the notion of preparation — preparation for examinations, competitions, interviews, presentations, board meetings, celebrations and hundreds of other important events. If we are willing to spend much time and effort preparing for that which concerns our earthly lives, what more that which concerns our souls? Are we content to be as those who receive the seed of the Word in stony places, who for a time express joy in it, but eventually fall in the face of tribulation or persecution (Matt. 13:20, 21)? Let us not belittle the persecution which is and which is to come. It will be fierce and it will be trying. It is a battle “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).
And so we prepare early. We prepare hard. We prepare so that we “may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13b).
But what does this preparation consist of? From the same passage, we read: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Put on the armour of God! What better defence have we than the armour given and chosen by God Himself? Let us put it on!
Have we the girdle of truth? Let us search the Scriptures that we may have before us an accurate account of reality, a worldview shaped by the lenses of God’s revelation. And do not be content with mere superficial understanding, but dive deep into the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Have we the breastplate of righteousness? Do we wholly trust in the imputed righteousness of Christ, or have we adorned ourselves with the filthy rags of Pelagianism, Arminianism or conditional theology? Only the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness will shield our hearts from Satan’s arrows of doubt.
Have we the sandals of the preparation of the gospel of peace? Has the message of the gospel so gripped our souls and established itself as our sure foundation that we may stand fast in the midst of fierce persecution? This is the gospel that will dispel all fears and fuel our courage. Know it, believe it, and cling to it.
Have we the shield of faith? Do we believe the promises of Scripture and cleave to Christ as our Saviour? Actively attend to the means which help kindle our faith and cause us to rely on the Word of God. With such a shield, we can extinguish every dart hurled at us by wicked foes.
Have we the helmet of salvation? Is the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8) within us so that when the devil unleashes his attacks, we may confidently declare “…there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day…” (1 Tim. 4:8)?
And have we the sword of the Spirit, the word of God? Know this word. Be rooted in and convicted of it. So that when we are challenged, “Yea, hath God said?” our response may begin as Christ’s “It is written…”
In putting on the armour of God, let us also not forget to pray (Eph. 6:18). Bowing the knee to God, we bring all our petitions to Him, asking for boldness, for peace, for strength. We pray always. In prosperity or in distress. And we pray for our fellow soldiers, that they too may stand. We pray, for it is God that protects us. He alone is our strength and shield.
Persecution is a reality. It is a reality now, and will continue to be, culminating in the great tribulation. Are we prepared? Will we stand in the evil day? Then let us take unto ourselves the whole armour of God.
*PSLE: Primary School Leaving Examination, usually taken at 12 years old.
**For a more thorough explanation of these views, the interested reader may refer to Prof. David Engelsma’s series on Pre-millennialism and Post-millennialism in the Standard Bearer magazine.
Koole, Kenneth (1982). The Church of the Present Day and Persecution (1). Standard Bearer (Vol. 58, Issue 20), retrieved from http://standardbearer. rfpa.org/node/38272.
Written by: Cheryl Lim | Issue 40