The rise of imprisonments, beheadings, and evictions of thousands of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia made 2015 the worst year yet according to a new report. An article by Perry Chiaramonte published by FoxNews.com reports, “Islamic extremism and authoritarian governments combined to make last year the worst in modern history for Christians around the world, according to Open Doors USA.”
It is estimated that 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith last year. This is a 50 percent increase from 2014, said to be the highest amount since records were kept. The most bloodiest and brutal persecution was in Nigeria, Eritrea, and Pakistan. North Korea also topped the top 10 list of otherwise Muslim nations as the most dangerous places for Christians.
Jay Sekulow, chief council for the American Center for Law and Justice, is quoted to say that the Open Doors USA report, “…confirms what we have seen develop in these countries — a rise in Islamic extremism that tragically targets minority religions — especially Christians.” Sekulow goes on say, “The brutality is unspeakable, with nearly 1 million Christians being slaughtered or displaced in the Middle East.”
This news is certainly not good news for Christians. In fact, it’s some of the worst news we could hear. But it’s a reality, and a sad one at that!
There’s another reality, however. It’s a reality that will change to become the good news in the end. For as horrific as Christian persecution is becoming, the reality is that it will come to a final end one day in God’s time.
When Jesus prophesied the signs of his coming and the end of this present evil age (Matthew 24:3, As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” [New American Standard Bible, NASB]) he didn’t portray a very rosy picture. The list is filled with ominous warnings: false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, famines, pestilences, worldwide earthquakes, are the beginning of birth pangs. From the time of Christ these birth pangs have become closer and closer and more intense each time they occur. Then comes the tribulation: “Then they will deliver you [the followers of Jesus] to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name,” (v. 9).
Interestingly, false prophets will also be in the mix. It’s because of false prophets that there is Christian persecution. When people turn to false religions that demand the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children then they finatically follow through with their beliefs. When hate toward their fellow human beings waxes so cold that it turns them into hard-hearted murderers in the name of their prophet or god, they create division, destruction, and death where ever they dominate in the world.
This is a sign of lawlessness according to our Lord who said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow [wax] cold,” (v. 12). The Greek word for “lawlessness” is anomia which means “without law; that utter disregard for God’s law both written and in God’s Word; includes the end-impact of law breaking, such as the negative influence of one’s status before God,” (HELPS Word Studies).
We see a world today that is moving farther from God’s law. This is making persecution a breeding ground for Christians throughout the world where blatant disregard for God’s law exists. God’s law is what keeps order but where there is less law there is more disorder.
Jesus must have believed that God’s law is the key to orderliness, security, peace, and especially love even though there are others who would criticize God’s law as just the opposite of these virtues.
Onetime a lawyer came to Jesus and asked him what is the greatest commandment of the law. And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets, (Matt. 22:37-40, NASB).
Jesus wants us to know that even though lawlessness will abound and love will turn cold and Christians will be persecuted, he will put an end to it for good. Just after Jesus said the love of many will grow cold, in the next breath he stated, “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved,” (Matt. 24:13, NASB).
Saved from what? Saved from eternal condemnation to enter the kingdom at his second coming and to live forever. Those persecuted Christians who endure and are saved in the end will be rewarded with eternal life (cp. Matthew 5:10-12; James 1:22). In Revelation 20, John gives a report of a vision of the future. In that vision, he foresaw the outcome of those who were persecuted for Christ during the tribulation to which Jesus referred in Matthew 24. You will find a reference to beheadings of Christians, not unlike what we’re witnessing in the news today:
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years, (Rev. 20:4).
Apparently, this persecution will not cease and will likely get worse worldwide since it will go on during the mark of the beast or antichrist which has yet to happen. And yet, just as church history shows, where persecution intensifies, the gospel grows and spreads that much more, even to the remotest parts of the earth. Jesus proceeded to say in verse 14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
So, as awful as persecution is, there is still good news. The Good News is what we have to tell the world: That God will end senseless suffering and killing at that appointed Day when Christ comes again. For those whose Saviour and Deliverer is Jesus Christ, there is hope of overcoming the evil of the world.
Just read, for example, what will happen to those who falsely believe that they are doing their god a favor by killing themselves along with innocent persons — those deceived into believing they will be rewarded in heaven and be given 72 virgins for their presumed “good” deed of terror: Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 2:1-12; 10:17-18; Proverbs 6:16-19; Isaiah 54:17; John 16:2; Romans 2:16; 12:19; 2 Peter 2:12; Revelation 21:8.
These passages prove that God is the righteous Judge who will someday remove terror permanently in all its ugly forms. Think of these promises whenever you see or hear of Christian persecution in the world. And share the hope we have with those who need to hear the Good News we hold so dear.
One of the questions that gets us to think about how we would react to persecution if we were facing it is: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? As you ponder this crucial question, click on the following video song by Newsboys titled, “Guilty”:
Good News to YOU!