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What Is Persecution?


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Definition: Persecution is the act of harassing, oppressing, or killing people because of their difference from society. Christians are persecuted because their belief in Jesus Christ as Savior does not conform to the godlessness of a sinful world.

The Bible records persecution of God's people in both the Old and New Testaments. Neighboring tribes such as the Philistines and Amalekites constantly attacked the ancient Jews because they rejected idolatry and worshiped the one True God. When they were backsliding, the Jews persecuted their own prophets, who were trying to bring them back.

The Pharisees persecuted Jesus because he did not follow their man-made legalism. Following Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, organized persecution of the early church started. One of its most zealous opponents was Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul.

After Paul converted to Christianity and became a missionary, the Roman Empire began to terrorize Christians. Paul was beheaded by order of the emperor Nero, and the Apostle Peter was reported to have been crucified upside down in a Roman arena. Killing Christians turned into a form of entertainment in Rome, as believers were executed in the stadium by wild animals, torture, and being set on fire.

Systemic persecution against Christians ended in the Roman empire about 313 A.D., when the emperor Constantine I signed the Edict of Milan, guaranteeing freedom of religion to all people.

From that time forward, Christians still have been persecuted all over the world. Many early Protestants who broke from the Catholic Church were imprisoned and burned at the stake. Christian missionaries have been killed in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Christians were imprisoned and killed during the reigns of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Today, the nonprofit organization Voice of the Martyrs tracks Christian persecution in China, Muslim countries, and throughout the world.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus prophesied that his followers would be attacked:

"Remember what I told you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:20, NIV)

Christ also promised rewards to those who endure persecution:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV)

Finally, Paul reminded that Jesus stands with us through all trials:

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (Romans 8:35, NIV)

Bible References: Deuteronomy 30:7; Psalms 9:13, 69:26, 119:157, 161; Matthew 5:11, 44, 13:21; Mark 4:17; Luke 11:49, 21:12; John 5:16, 15:20; Acts 7:52, 8:1, 11:19, 9:4, 12:11, 13:50, 26:14; Romans 8:35, 12:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:7; Hebrews 10:33; Revelation 2:10.

Example: Persecution drove the early church under ground and helped it spread.

Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.

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