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July 23, 2007

“REJOICE WHEN PERSECUTED”

by Professor Robert J. Barth

The contrast between physical light and darkness, and the analogous contrast between spiritual light and darkness is an emphasis throughout Scripture. The first time we see it is in Genesis. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Then God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:2, 3).

Light and darkness cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Darkness is the absence of light and is the default state until light is infused to dispel the darkness. The physical phenomena of darkness and light help us understand the conflict between the kingdom of God (light) and the kingdom of Satan (darkness).

We know that God dwells in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:16). His nature and being is light. In the Book of Revelation, we read that in the New Jerusalem there will be no need for the sun or moon for light. “For the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:23). While God, in a cloudy pillar, “spoke unto Moses face to face” (Exodus 33:10-11), God said that no man can see His face and live. Because Moses found grace in God’s sight, God was willing to pass by Moses in all His glory, but God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him as He passed by to spare Moses’ life. (See Exodus 33:15-23.) The radiance and glory of God is so great that Moses’ face shone after he came down from Mt. Sinai with a new set of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:29-30).

Spiritually speaking, the world is in darkness. Jesus came into the world to dispel the darkness for He is the light of the world.

The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light [speaking of Jesus] is sprung up. (Matthew 4:15-16)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:1-10)

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, His glory (brightness/character) was revealed. “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matthew 17:1-2).

No ruler wants to surrender territory, to admit defeat, or to loose his subjects. Satan is the “god of this world” and he does not want to loose his influence in a person’s life. But those who have the Light have a duty to help others receive the Light.

But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Corinthians 4:3-6)

Jesus came as the light to the world, and all who have been born again by the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead are agents of the light of Jesus. Remember the darkness does not comprehend the light, and darkness, in effect, opposes light. That is why Jesus said that all who believe in Him will, as agents of light, suffer persecution. “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Mathew 10:22, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17). The Apostle Paul affirmed this to Timothy. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). It is the conflict between spiritual darkness and spiritual light, the conflict between deceptive lies and iniquity, and truth and righteousness.

As said before, light and darkness cannot exist together. In His exhortation to rejoice when persecuted, Jesus is telling the children of light to consider it a great victory when people in the kingdom of darkness react to their “light.” If the light of Jesus is shining bright enough to cause the children of darkness to react, the children of light should rejoice that their light is that bright. Jesus said:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

The Apostle Peter put it this way:

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (I Peter 4:12-16)

The Apostles understood and manifested the joy of being persecuted for the light of Jesus in them. After they were told not to teach in the name of Jesus and were arrested for doing so, an angel opened the prison doors. The Apostles went right to the temple and began teaching the people, for which they were again arrested and beaten before being let go. (See Acts 5:17-39.) The Apostles rejoiced:

And to him [Gamaliel] they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)

The Apostles wanted more people to hear the Word and to come to faith because they knew that “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

It is important to stress that the command “rejoice when persecuted” presupposes that the Light is in you. It also presupposes that the opposition or persecution you experience is in response to the Light, not in response to a lack of love and concern for others, or because of spiritual pride or wrongdoing. Peter emphasized this in the verse quoted above. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” DO NOT assume that contention or conflict with unbelievers is persecution for righteousness sake. It may be a reaction to our own sin. “Only by pride cometh contention, but with the well advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).

Persecution for “righteousness sake” occurs when you love God and others more than yourself and are willing to die to your reputation and comfort because your greatest concern is the eternal well being of others, but yet you experience darkness against you for the light you share or demonstrate. If “saving souls” is not motivated by love for the lost, the negative reaction may be only because of our own iniquity. People see hypocrisy when a message is given by a messenger who does not live the message. What matters in the kingdom of God is “faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love” (Galatians 5:6 Amplified Bible).

Are there any rewards or promises associated with the command to rejoice when persecuted? We know that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If we rejoice when persecuted, we will experience the joy of being considered “worthy to suffer” (Acts 5:41) for Jesus. And, Jesus said that the reward in heaven is “great” (Matthew 5:12). The Apostle Paul reminds us, “It is written: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him’” (I Corinthians 2:9)

I encourage you to study these and other related Scriptures. Next time we will look at how the command to “rejoice when persecuted” relates to the exhortation to “let you light shine.”

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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.

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