Persecution is something Christians talk about all the time. As believers, Christ told us persecution would be a part of our lives.
What is Persecution in the Bible?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the word “persecute” is not a New Testament word. The idea of persecution has existed the entrance of sin in the world. The word persecute was first used in the context that we’re familiar with it in the book of Deuteronomy,
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And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee (30:7 KJV)
This verse is included in the set of blessings that would be bestowed on the Israelites if they obeyed God when they inhabited the Promised Land.
It was also used by Job when speaking of his friends,
Why do you persecute me as God does,
And are not satisfied with my flesh? Job 19:22
In the verse above, Job was complaining about his friends. He accused his friends of persecuting him like God did. He felt that their words indicated that they wanted to see him unhappy of destroyed. If you’ve read the book of Job you’ll realize that Job spent a lot of time feeling persecuted and tormented by God.
The Hebrew word used for persecute is râdaph, (pronounced raw-daf’) and it means to run after (usually with hostile intent. It could also mean chase, put to flight, hunt, persecute, or persecution.
But Job was not the first person who served God to feel persecuted. Persecution of God’s people began as far back as Genesis 4 when Cain attacked his brother Abel. One may even argue that it went as far back as Genesis 3 when Satan pursued Eve with evil intents.
What are examples of persecution?
As you may expect, there are lots of examples of persecution in the Bible. But what does it mean to be persecuted? Let’s look at persecution in the Bible and see how it applies to us today.
Old Testament Examples of Persecution in the Bible
David experienced a lot of persecution in the Bible. His father-in-law tried to kill him. He spent twenty years on the run hiding in caves when he had been appointed king. His son tried to abdicate power. He had a number of people rise up against him…the psalms are filled with David’s cries to God and how he felt while he was being persecuted. But he always remembered that God was with him.
You may remember Joseph as the favored son of his father, Jacob. But being the favorite among twelve brothers was not a nice place to be…especially when his brothers’ jealousy caused them to sell him into slavery. And life only seemed to get more difficult after that.
He became a slave in Egypt. He was accused of rape and thrown into prison, all because he wanted to honor God.
Isaac, the sons of Abraham, experienced persecution at the hands of Abimelech’s men. When Isaac was living among them, it seemed as if they found great pleasure in terrorizing Isaac. Whenever he dug a well, they had some form of contention with him about it.
The Israelites lived in Egypt for more than 400 years. At first, things were good. Pharaoh knew Joseph and the Israelites were in his good graces. But eventually, the Pharaoh who knew Joseph died and the Israelites were enslaved. Their persecution was so great, they called out to God for deliverance.
New Testament Examples of Persecution in the Bible
The apostles experienced a lot of persecution in the Bible. They were ostracized, imprisoned, whipped, and executed, all because they chose to believe that Jesus was the son of God.
This persecution continued with the New Testament believers. They were persecuted for their faith to the point that many of them had to leave Jerusalem and go to other countries, and even there persecution followed them.
Of course, when we think about persecution in the Bible, we should not forget to include Jesus. Our Savior was provoked, arrested, whipped, spat on, laughed at, and crucified.
Hope When You Are Persecuted
The Sermon on the Mount included this very strange concept,
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. – Matthew 5:11 NKJV
I know, the idea that I’m blessed in the middle of my persecution is difficult for me to accept too. Yet, this idea of those who believe in God waiting though they experience persecution is not new in the Bible.
Psalm 129 is notated as a song of ascents. Songs of ascents were believed to have been sung by the Israelites as they made their way up to Jerusalem on their way to attend the three annual feasts.
This is important to understand because Psalm 129 talks about the persecution the Israelites had undergone. What’s interesting is that though they have experienced persecution, the Israelites could speak about God’s faithfulness.
“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth; Yet they have not prevailed against me.”– Psalm 129:2
Psalm 129 2 is a great verse to start with as it reminds you that no matter what you’re going through, God But Psalm 129 2 is a beacon of hope. We do not have to fear persecution because God has not left us to face it alone.
This truth applies for us as well. Though we are persecuted for Jesus’ sake, those who persecute us will not prevail against us. But while we’re being persecuted how do we respond?
How to Handle Persecution
Alright, so we’ve already established that persecution happened in the Bible an that as God’s people we should expect persecution, but how should we respond? Is it alright to respond harshly or with like behavior? What does the Bible say about how we should treat those who persecute us?
If we were to do a Bible study on persecution we’d quickly realize that God has a different idea of how we are to respond to those who persecute us than the world does. So, here are 3 things we can do when we experience persecution.
1. Meditate on Scripture. God knew, post-sin, we’d experience a lot of hard things. The Bible is filled with verses offering encouragement and strength. Read stories of persecution in the Bible and see how other believers handled being persecuted for their faith.
2. Pray. Prayer changes things. Pray for strength to endure the persecution you’re experiencing. Pray for those who persecute you. I know, praying for your enemies is a difficult concept, but this is what God has asked us to do. Praying for those who persecute us is the lifestyle Christ modeled for us so if we’re going to endure being part of the persecuted church, we have to follow the example of Christ.
3. Focus on the benefits. Persecution strengthens our faith. It gets us to draw closer to God and to learn to depend on His strength. As we lean into God in our sufferings, we get the resources we need to get through the persecution.
Bible Verses About Persecution
There are many references to persecution in the Bible. Here are just a few verses to encourage you as you endure your affliction. Read them and take comfort, knowing that God is with you and that all over the world there are those who share in your suffering.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. – 1 Peter 4:12-14 ESV
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” – Luke 6:22 ESV
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 ESV
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-12
And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. – Matthew 10:22 ESV
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you:
‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:18-21 ESV
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. – Psalm 34:19 ESV
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12 ESV
Blessings Come with Persecution
It’s true that being a Christian means at some point you’ll be afflicted for your faith. This affliction may take various forms from being teased or bullied for what you belief, to losing your job, imprisonment, or even death.
But there’s another side to it: persecution also comes with blessings. God has not left us to suffer these things alone. As we’ve seen from looking at stories of persecution in the Bible, there’s hope.
If we remain steadfast, God will deliver us and if we endure to the end, we will be saved.
How do you handle persecution? Share your tips below.
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