THE HARD WAY
Take heed to yourselves, for they will hand you over to councils, and they will scourge you in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, and it will be your opportunity to bear your witness to them. The gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they hand you over and bring you before authorities, do not worry beforehand about what you will say, but speak whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit. Brother shall hand over brother to death, and father child. All children will rise up against parents, and will kill them. And you will be hated of all for the sake of my name. But the man who has endured to the end, he will be saved;
Now we come to the warnings of persecution to come. Jesus never left his followers in any doubt that they had chosen a hard way. No man could say that he had not known the conditions of Christ’s service in advance.
The handing over to councils and the scourging in synagogues refer to Jewish persecution. In Jerusalem there was the great Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews, but every town and village had its local Sanhedrin. Before such local Sanhedrins the self-confessed heretics would be tried, and in the synagogues they would be publicly scourged. The governors and kings refer to trials before the Roman courts, such as Paul faced before Felix and Festus and Agrippa.
It was a fact that the Christians were wonderfully strengthened in their trials. When we read of the trials of the martyrs, even though they were often ignorant and unlettered men, the impression often is that it was the judges and not the Christians who were on trial. Their Christian faith enabled the simplest folk to fear God so much that they never feared the face of any man.
It was true that even those of a man’s own family sometimes betrayed him. In the early Roman Empire one of the curses was the informer (delator). There were those who, in their attempts to curry favour with the authorities, would not hesitate to betray their own kith and kin. That must have been the sorest blow of all.
In Hitler’s Germany a man was arrested because he stood for freedom. He endured imprisonment and torture with stoic and uncomplaining fortitude. Finally, with spirit still unbroken, he was released. Some short time afterwards he committed suicide. Many wondered why. Those who knew him well knew the reason–he had discovered that his own son was the person who had informed against him. The treachery of his own broke him in a way that the cruelty of his enemies was unable to achieve.
This family and domestic hostility was one of the regular items in the catalogue of terror of the last and terrible days, “Friends shall attack one another suddenly” (4 Esdras 5: 9). “And they shall hate one another and provoke one another to fight” (2 Baruch 70: 3). “And they shall strive with one another, the young with the old, and the old with the young, the poor with the rich, the lowly with the great, the beggar with the prince” (Jubilees 23: 19). “Children shall shame the elders, and the elders shall rise up before the children” (The Mishnah, Sotah 9: 15). “For the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:6).
Life becomes a hell upon earth when personal loyalties are destroyed and when there is no love which a man may trust.
It was true that the Christians were hated. Tacitus talked of Christianity as an accursed superstition; Suetonius called it a new and evil superstition. The main reason for the hatred was the way in which Christianity cut across family ties. The fact was that a man had to love Christ more than father or mother, or son or daughter. And the matter was complicated by the way that the Christians were much slandered. It is beyond doubt that the Jews did much to encourage these slanders. The most serious was the charge that the Christians were cannibals, a charge supported by the words of the sacrament which speak of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood.
In this, as in all other things, it is the man who endures to the end who is saved. Life is not a short, sharp sprint; it is a marathon race. Life is not a single battle; it is a long campaign. Dr. G.J. Jeffrey tells of a famous man who refused to have his biography written when he was still alive. “I have seen too many men fall out on the last lap of the race,” he said. Life is never safe until it reaches journey’s end. It was Bunyan who, in his dream, saw that from the very gates of heaven there was a way to hell. It is the man who endures to the end who will be saved.
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